Handling Holiday Stress: Family Stress, Gift Shopping Stress, and more

I hope that everyone had a fun and safe Thanksgiving with family and friends. I know that this time of year can be stressful for many, no matter who you are. Some of us are stuck with dealing with unsupportive family members and some of us are still in trying times with the pandemic- it’s hard for many. I know it’s hard to deal with, and sometimes it can quite triggering to experience.

For me, this time of the year is probably the most stressful. So far, I haven’t spent a winter holiday with any of my family for two years. In 2019, it was just because of distance. Last year, it was because I had COVID. But it was ultimately a blessing in disguise because I had done a lot of soul searching in the past few years. I realized that almost every year before 2019, I found myself more depressed during the holidays and part of it was because of how judgmental my family can be, and how they usually has their judgments on my life. I found that I didn’t need it. I didn’t need the validation from my family to be happy. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone needs to cut out family like I have, but in my personal journey, I find that keeping my family at a distance during the holidays has actually made me much happier and more peaceful. My point: Know your limits on what you can handle when it comes to the holidays. The holidays are supposed to be a joyous time for family and friends. Don’t let anyone take your happiness away from you.

This blog doesn’t have much of a purpose other than me trying my best to relate to everyone, knowing that we all have such different struggles. It’s a reminder that we are all in control of our emotions and our lives, and it’s important to know that your family holds no power over you if you don’t let them. Here are some helpful tips to handle the stress of the holiday season!

Tips for Maintaining Good Mental Health during the Holidays

1. Take Steps to Stay Safe

As always, with COVID19 still predominantly active, it’s important to protect yourself from physical illness while also protecting yourself from a mental down spiral.

  • Wear a mask
  • Don’t go if you feel ill
  • Get vaccinated, or mask up, or both.
  • Wash hands often, especially if handling food.

2. Accept Your Needs

Recognize your physical and mental health needs before you go so that you can prepare yourself on how you can dodge certain triggers.

3. Write a Gratitude List and Offer Thanks

When you feel really overwhelmed, take a moment to think of all the positive things to be thankful for. Write them down. Taking a moment to realize the good can help realign your mindset. It is a proven way to improve mental health.

4. Manage your Time, and Don’t Try to Do too Much

This is a tricky step, even for me, as sometimes we tend to overwhelm ourselves by trying to do the most. Prioritize the most important tasks, and make a to-do list to keep yourself grounded. Remember that it’s okay to say no to things that you aren’t comfortable doing.

5. Be Realistic

Nothing is ever like the holiday Hallmark movies. Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations. Everyone has struggles, it’s okay to not have a perfect time or the perfect gift for someone. Remember, it’s always the thought that counts.

6. Set Boundaries

This one can be hard for our loved ones to hear, and it can be hard for us to enforce as someone who struggles with mental illness. You can’t control what your family says and does, but you can control what you can do. You have the right to stand up for yourself and tell family what makes you uncomfortable. Sometimes the best thing to do is leave the situation altogether.

7. Practice Relaxation

Deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself, especially before walking into a family holiday nightmare. If you use other methods of relaxation, utilize those before meeting with family to ease that stress. You can always take a break during the gathering to gather your thoughts and relax again.

8. Exercise Daily

Now, I’m aware that some people aren’t in the best physical condition to “work out”, but there’s always a way to get the blood flowing. By exercising, we increase our blood flow to our brains where our emotions are controlled. Take 15-30 minutes a day AT LEAST to take a walk, dance, or even stretch to get that blood flowing.

9. Set Aside Time for Yourself and Prioritize Self Care

Make time for activities that you personally enjoy. Read a book, go to the movies (or make a movie night), get a massage, listen to music you like, or cuddle with your doggo. It’s okay to make time for yourself. There is nothing wrong with taking some time to only focus on yourself. After all, you can’t take care of everyone else if you never take care of yourself.

10. Eat Well

Or at least as best as you can. Try to eat foods that are nutrient-rich. I know it can be especially hard during the holidays, but you can always balance it out.

11. Get Enough Sleep

Some mental illnesses can be worsened by a lack of sleep, like mania with bipolar disorder. I know it’s easier said than done, but try some sleep meditation or setting a bedtime ritual that will help you wind down enough to fall asleep. Remember 8 hours is better than 6. 6 hours is better than 4. And so on. Don’t weigh too much on the numbers, focus on how you feel.

12. Spend Time in Nature

As someone who practices a different spirituality than the majority, I like the idea of connecting with nature. It’s called grounding, and it really helps. Sit outside, in the sun, and just relax. Listen to the rustling leaves in the wind, feel the sunlight kiss your skin. It can bring a whole new level of peacefulness that you never knew existed.

13. Volunteer

Sometimes, by helping those in need, volunteerism can help you adjust your mindset to where it needs to be. It can help jog your thoughts into realizing how much you have to be thankful for.

14. Get Support

And finally, finding a good support can be very helpful. You aren’t the only one who struggles during the holidays and sometimes finding someone to vent to who also shares a similar struggle can help you feel less alone. You might even be able to learn a new technique to help you in your own struggle. I have a list of helpful resources that can help as well as a support group that you can sign up for. It’s free and simple. You are not alone.

It’s also important to keep up with therapy if you are already participating, and if you aren’t, maybe this is your chance to start.

Information found in this article came from NAMI-California

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