The holidays often appear as the “happiest time of the year” — enriched with time spent with loved ones, twinkly lights, decorations, carols, gifts and more. For many, it is a month, maybe even two of pure joy.
We all know there is a great deal of stress that can also come with the holidays. Along with the joy comes many responsibilities, stressful situations and a long list of gifts to buy and wrap. For some, there is far more stress than joy. The holidays can be a harsh reminder of the past, financial struggle and feelings of loneliness. If someone is already struggling with mental illness, the holidays can intensify these feelings.
There are many ways you can prepare for this time of year. I have included some of the tools that help me each year and they could benefit you or someone you know. While this time of year is full of excitement, check in with your loved ones.
1. Budgeting is a very common stressor, whether it be for food, travel plans or gifts. Planning in advance is a great idea for anyone, especially those with anxiety.
2. Family can be a difficult subject. If this is sensitive for you, be realistic with yourself. If attending a large gathering is overwhelming, only plan to attend for a few hours instead of the full day.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your family members and communicate them clearly. Hopefully they will understand. If they don’t, that’s OK too.
3. We often feel obligated to say, “Yes.” If you’re like me, you say “yes” to everything — each dish to be made for gatherings, each gift, each activity, you name it.
Simply overcommitting yourself can lead to a lot of unnecessary anxiety. Be gentle and pace yourself. Don’t take on more than you can handle and don’t be afraid to say “no.” Let others share the responsibilities and prioritize yours.
4. The winter months can get to the best of us. Loneliness is more common than not. We are more prone to stay in and spend time at home. For me, this causes my anxiety to increase a great deal. This is common and there are ways to help.
Try to find a hobby you can enjoy in the winter months — something to keep your mind occupied. For me, this is art, I can spend hours upon hours painting. Next, find activities in your local area that can help get you in the holiday spirit. Maybe even volunteer in your community. It gives you a great sense of purpose and there are so many organizations needing volunteers this time of year.
If you are someone who knows you regularly struggle during the holidays, let the people closest to you know to check in with you.
5. Personal losses can often become a prominent thought for individuals. This can include grieving the loss of a loved one, strained relationships among family members, etc. The first step is accepting it is valid to feel how you do and that this holiday may indeed not be the same.
Spend time with others sharing this same feeling. This can be seen as an opportunity for new traditions. Create a tradition in their memory. Ask yourself, what were they passionate about? Remember them with these new annual activities. Spend time with all those who love you most and understand your loss.
6. We all know everyone and their mother create “New Year’s resolutions.” Many are unrealistic and are forgotten less than a month in.
Instead, consider reflecting on the year that is coming to a close, notice what has changed and what has stayed the same. Notice the things that are going well and the things you have done well. Also notice the things that have not gone well and acknowledge how the upcoming year can be different.
Acknowledge and give yourself credit for all you have accomplished. Look to the New Year with hope but consider not setting New Year’s resolutions. Oftentimes, they put unnecessary pressure on these goals which actually prevents us from achieving them. Instead, if you want to change or achieve something, start with today. Don’t wait for the New Year — put your plan in motion now.
7. Many people begin to experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is directly related to the change in season. The symptoms closely resemble depression: sadness, tiredness, mood changes, trouble concentrating, irritability, body aches, insomnia, decreased interest in activities and over or undereating. These symptoms can vary between individuals and if you’re experiencing any of them, speak to a mental health professional in your community. There are treatment options available to you, which may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.
The most important thing to remember during the holidays is that you always have choices. There are many assistance options available to you and hopefully this list can help with where to start.
You have the power to make the holidays a time of happiness. Preparing yourself and taking the effective measures to help you cope can be extremely helpful. Similar to many situations surrounding anxiety, preparation and planning can ease the panic.
I wish you a happy and healthy holiday season. Stay safe and strong.
A version of this story was originally published at Tee Up for Mental Health.