AMK Counseling

Mental Health Maintenance Around the Holidays By Gwendolyn Tsuji, MA, LCPC

The holiday season seems to begin earlier every year. Tell-tale signs include cozy sweaters, scents of warm spices, and Black Friday advertisements relentlessly popping up in our inboxes. As shorter and colder days approach, many individuals and families will busy themselves with quality time, holiday shopping, and seasonal celebrations. Although the holidays are meant to be a time of joy, connection, and gratitude; for many, they are not “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Pre-pandemic studies showed that one third of adults in the U.S. reported that the holidays stressed them out. High expectations, busy schedules, financial stress, and strained relationships contribute to the exasperations of stress and pressure around the holidays. Here are some steps you can take to engage in self care and mental health maintenance around the holidays.

Check in with Yourself
Checking in with ourselves involves pausing to breathe, noticing our thoughts, noticing our physical and emotional feelings, and deciding how to proceed. Taking this time to check in will alert us to the signals of our emotional and bodily needs, which are often dismissed during busy times like the holiday season. Asking ourselves the following three questions can help us create a path of attunement and self care:

How am I feeling?
What do I need?
How can I move forward?

Set Boundaries
Boundaries are the norms, rules, and limits to our relationships. We all have them, spoken and unspoken, and they guide us through relationship comforts and discomforts. To better manage stress associated with the holidays, set boundaries for yourself based on what you can handle mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially this season. Sharing these boundaries with partners and family can reinforce your limits and help manage the expectations of others. Setting boundaries around the holidays might look like a two-hour dinner visit versus staying late into the night. An important rule to remember is that boundaries are not selfish, they are protective and preventive measures when it comes to our holistic health.

Practice Gratitude
Studies show that practicing gratitude regularly increases positive emotions and improves well being. In families with young children, writing gratitude letters contributed to children’s awareness of positive social experiences, improved well-being, and increased gratefulness. During this holiday season, reminding yourself of what you are grateful for – health, support, life, family, and friends – can reduce focus on holiday pressures related to giving or receiving money, extra gifts, and parties.

Spend Quality Time
During this season, gravitate towards people and communities that you enjoy being around. This can include members of family, friends, co-workers, clubs, and faith. These are individuals or groups who listen, are understanding, make you laugh, and make you feel important and valued. Relationships that evoke kindness, wisdom, determination, courage, and love deserve some extra time this season.

Manage Your Expectations
Managing expectations simply means that we are establishing realistic standards to prevent disappointment. Managing expectations is applicable to many factors associated with the holiday season and will help you stay positive and possibly reduce stress around the holidays. We may be managing our expectations around a holiday season that may look and feel different than what we are used to. We may be managing expectations around a gathering of family members with strained relationships. We may be managing expectations around what is financially feasible for gift giving, travel, and accommodations around the holidays.