The holidays can be a fun and joyful time filled with celebrations and social connections. At the same time, the holiday season can be very stressful, leading to or intensifying feelings of anxiety or depression, especially if you are living with mental illness.
Mental illness can make seemingly simple situations feel challenging or overwhelming. You may feel anxious about increased spending, traveling or seeing people who aren’t part of your usual day-to-day life. If your social calendar isn’t as full as you’d like it to be, you may experience worsening feelings of loneliness or isolation.
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Protecting Your Mental Health During the Holidays
Before the holidays arrive, it’s a good idea to think about what steps you may need to take to protect your mental health during this time of year. Even though you may be very busy, it’s important to keep therapy appointments and attend support groups.
If you’re traveling, be sure to pack any medication you’re on and continue to take it as prescribed. Whenever possible, spend time with people who are familiar with your mental health challenges and are supportive. Avoid turning to drugs or alcohol to relieve uncomfortable feelings.
Prioritizing Your Needs
The holidays can be filled with a flurry of social activities, and you’ll need to find a balance between participating in these events and not letting yourself get overwhelmed by trying to do too much. Family members and friends may try to make plans for you regarding how you’ll spend your time during the holidays. Trying to go along with what others want you to do can lead to intense emotional reactions and difficulty regaining a sense of emotional balance.
You have the right to decide which events you’ll participate in and how long you’ll stay. In order to take care of yourself, you may need to avoid certain situations or people to reduce feeling stressed or overwhelmed or limit the amount of time you spend in certain settings. At the same time, you shouldn’t try to avoid all social events which can lead to a sense of isolation.
Whether others know you have a mental illness or not, there’s a good chance they won’t understand how the holidays may affect you. You’re responsible for taking care of your own needs and for making your mental health a priority, which means having fun at social events but being aware of signs that you’re feeling reactive or overwhelmed.
Practices to Help Manage Your Mental Health
Good habits and routines can help you to stay mentally healthy and strong. It’s always better to try to prevent negative spirals or feeling out of control than to try to figure out what to do after something goes wrong.
Some habits that can help you to stay mentally healthy include:
- Exercise – There’s a clear relationship between physical and mental health. Making time for exercise on a regular basis can help your mental outlook. Walking, swimming, biking, and dancing are among the many things you can do to stay active.
- Choosing healthy foods – During the holidays, you’re likely to be surrounded by a lot of food just about everywhere you go. While the dessert table may be very appealing, be sure to include healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. Try to avoid overindulging.
- Mindfulness – An important practice for staying mentally strong is mindfulness. Get in the habit of focusing on the present moment, calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings. If you find yourself worrying about days or weeks in the future or dwelling on things that happened in the past, gently return your awareness to what is happening in this moment in time.
- Getting enough rest – Running yourself ragged can make you feel exhausted and vulnerable. Make time to get adequate rest. Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day makes sleeping a predictable and refreshing part of your life. Practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques to help you to unwind at the end of a busy or stressful day.
If at any time during the holidays you feel overwhelmed, depressed or anxious, ask for help. Talk to supportive family or friends, or touch base with your therapist. Take some time away from the hustle and bustle if you need to.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental health issue, please contact us at (855) 409-0204 or submit the form below and a treatment specialist will contact you.