6 Ways to Stay Mentally Healthy During the Holiday Season

Published On November 20, 2013 | By Dr. Kim Brandt | And Guys Too, Health, Holiday, Women

It’s not uncommon to feel stressed or sad around the holiday season. A lot of people feel weighed down by a number of obligations and events to attend.  Sometimes even joyful occasions such as gift giving and spending time with family can seem stressful. Many of us often take on extra responsibilities to help others, causing us to feel frazzled and overwhelmed. Here are some tips to take care of your own mental health around the holidays:

Let Others Help You

When someone asks you if you need help, say yes! Hosting a holiday dinner and feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring a side dish or dessert to contribute to the meal. Don’t want to spend hours baking holiday goodies? Let the local grocery or specialty store do the work for you. Is anyone really going to know you picked up that delicious pumpkin pie at Costco once you take it out of the box?  (Really, their pumpkin pie is AWESOME!) And of course, don’t forget to say thank you to those around you who help.

Try to Plan Ahead

There’s nothing more stressful than running around at the last minute getting ingredients for recipes or buying gifts on Christmas Eve. An organized person is often a less stressed person! Make lists for gifts– who you are buying for, what ideas you have and what stores you are going to hit. Make packing lists if you are traveling. Make grocery lists, noting things you don’t have in your pantry for holiday meals and events.

Take Care of Yourself

Staying physically healthy is of the utmost importance for maintaining your mental health. Overindulgence in food and alcoholic beverages around the holidays is common.  Lean towards proteins, whole grains and veggies. Limit portion sizes, processed foods, starches and sugars to feel less bloated and fatigued. Limit alcohol consumption to an average of one standard drink per day for women or two standard drinks per day for men to reduce calorie consumption and improve your sleep cycle (a standard drink is defined as 1 ½ oz. of hard liquor, 12 oz. of beer and 5 oz. of wine). Get adequate sleep at night. Continue or increase your regular activity or exercise routine to help with stress relief and increased production of natural endorphins (“feel good” chemicals in your body.) If you have a chronic medical condition, make sure to maintain your health by taking prescribed medications as directed.  Spend time outdoors in the sun.  Many people in the fall and winter might notice changes in mood, energy and sleep, which could be the result of a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Therapy for this condition often involves use of an indoor light box in the morning for 15-20 minutes daily when adequate outdoor light is unavailable.

Talk to Someone

Most people know that just talking to someone about your stressors can be helpful and therapeutic (in the clinical world, we call this catharsis). Close friends, family and therapists are all good options. When you’re listening to others, try to be supportive, validating and empathetic, without giving advice– saying things like “what you’re going through must be so hard,” and “wow, you really seem overwhelmed right now.”

Be Thankful

Every year at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, we go around the table and tell the group what we’re thankful for. This really is an amazing tradition. Try to use the holiday season as reminder of all the great things you have in your life. No one’s life is perfect, but I think all of us have at least one or two things that are going well that we can be grateful for. Need a place to start? Think of the basics: life, religion, family, friends, food, shelter, employment, pets, health… the list goes on and on. Some of these things are simple, yet so essential. Want to give back to others who may lack these essentials? Shelters, food banks, soup kitchens and charities are almost always looking for volunteers. If you can’t volunteer your time, you can donate food, money or material goods to these places, second-hand stores or charity organizations.

Know If Your Symptoms Are Normal

Having depressed and anxious feelings can be totally normal. Everyone will experience these emotions occasionally, especially during sad or stressful times. Feeling excessively down for most days in a two week period along with difficulty sleeping, decreased interests, decreased energy level, decreased concentration, and change in appetite might be signs of Major Depressive Disorder.  Thoughts of ending your own life or harming yourself are NEVER normal. All of these symptoms should be diagnosed and treated by a mental health or primary care professional.  Anyone having thoughts of harming themselves or others should be evaluated at an ER immediately or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-237-TALK (8255).

The list above certainly isn’t all inclusive, but it’s a good start in right direction of taking care of your mental health during the holidays and beyond. Feel free to leave your own suggestions or ideas in the comments below on how to stay mentally healthy during the holiday season.

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About The Author

Kim Brandt, D.O. is a physician in her final year of residency training in psychiatry at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. She has a special interest in young adult and women’s mental health. When she’s not seeing patients, Dr. Brandt enjoys spending time with her fiancé and two cats, shopping, doing yoga and spending time outdoors.

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