10 Tips for holding on to your mental health during the holidays
By Dr. Bev Snyder
The holiday season can be joyful, exciting, heartwarming, and fun. It can also be incredibly
stressful, lonely, and overwhelming. We feel the need to be happy, because that is what is expected. However, the holidays can also be a challenging time from those who struggle with depression and/or loss. Further, those who have lost a loved one might experience escalated feelings of grief and longing during what is considered precious family time. The space where a loved one once sat now feels like a giant void, one that no gift, song or holiday tradition can fill.
Corinthians 2:10: “But God has revealed it (the ability to celebrate life while grieving) to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.”
Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming soon . . . and with it often comes unwanted and unwelcome guests – stress, depression and awareness of loss. It is a tough time, filled with a dizzying array of demands. And certainly, the coronavirus is an additional threat to our
balance and ability to function. You may be worrying about your and your loved ones’ health and also feel stressed because your holiday plans may look different during the pandemic. With some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that may accompany the holidays. You may even enjoy the holidays more than you thought you would, mostly due to extra planning and forethought.
However, your emotional resilience is likely at an all-time low, as is our guilt for feeling ‘dark and twisted’ around “the most wonderful time of the year.” Here is what I’ve learned: we need to be gentle with ourselves as well as with our other loved ones who are also feeling this loss. There’s a saying that explains why grief can be so difficult: “As much as you love, it’s as hard to heal.”
2 Kings 20:5: “…This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.”
While keeping your faith strong, here are 10 tips that may help you get through a difficult
1. Acknowledge how you feel. It’s okay to be sad. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. Take time to cry or express your feelings. Embrace the feelings and release them. Talk to friends, family or whoever is your safe support system.
2. Communicate. Share with your circle what you are feeling. Be honest and admit that with the holidays and loss comes some sadness. Talk about your loved one and reflect on warm memories. The best way to keep their spirit alive is by sharing it with others. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, your church members, and perhaps join the Mental Health Group that meets on Wednesday weekly. Try reaching out to others with a call or a text or an email. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. Bake some cookies and leave them at your neighbor’s door with a cheerful note. Practice a random act of kindness.
3. Traditions. Keep precious traditions alive. Take the time to honor your loved one and remember the role they played in your celebrations. But remember that as families change and grow, so often do traditions and rituals change as well. For example, if your adult children or other relatives can’t come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or meet virtually on Zoom or other video calls. Keep the old traditions that give pleasure and perhaps add some new rituals that fit the needs of this year.
4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. Set aside grievances until there is a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding when someone gets upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they are feeling stressed and some depression, too.
5. Set a budget. Before going out to purchase holiday gifts, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
- Donate to a charity in someone’s name
- Give homemade gifts
- Start a family gift exchange
6. Plan ahead. Set aside certain days for shopping, baking or connecting with friends and other activities. Consider buying online for any of your items. Plan menus and make a shopping list. And be sure to line up help for meal preparation and cleanup. And don’t forget it’s ok to say no to activities or events that you don’t feel you can attend.
7. Hold onto your healthy habits. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Try these:
- Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or
- Eat healthy meals
- Get plenty of sleep
- Get some exercise (about 30 minutes/day)
- Try deep-breathing, meditation or yoga
- Limit your exposure to social media and the news
8. Take a break. Spend some time with yourself. Even 15 minutes away from others may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Restore your inner calm by taking a walk (perhaps at night), listen to soothing music or read an inspirational or devotional book.
9. Set the intention to remain calm. The answer to chaos is silence. Go within while sitting in your car waiting for the light to change or while cleaning up the kitchen. Call upon God to show you the way to remain centered and aware of your intention. Sit in quietude and fill yourself with unyielding softness. If your motive is pure, you are okay! Best way to be the creator of your own peacefulness is to sit in sacred space and allow the calm to come. Be a witness to loving kindness with awareness of all that is around you.
10. Seek professional help if you need it. If you feel overwhelmingly sad, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Recognize your personal triggers such as financial issues or personal demands so you can handle them before they lead to a breakdown. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or mental health professional.
Matthew 9:29 “If you have faith and do not doubt… it will be done.”
My hope is during the holiday season you find moments of peace, comfort and joy. Don’t create unrealistic expectations that exacerbate your depression. May you get through the tough days and find happiness in the little things. Remember, grief is the price for love. Our support group meets on Wednesday night on Zoom.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if joining the group might help provide needed support.
Acknowledgement is given with thanks for ideas from both Erika’s Lighthouse and the Mayo Clinic.