Maintaining Mental Health During the Holidays

A National Alliance of Mental Illness study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. “For many people, the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year,” said NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth (in an interview before the pandemic). For individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression.

Here are some suggestions for how you can reduce stress and maintain good mental health during the holiday season:

Accept your needs. 

Be kind to yourself! Put your own mental and physical well-being first. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations. Is shopping for holiday gifts too stressful for you? What is making you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can take steps to avoid or cope with stress.

Write a gratitude list and offer thanks. 

As we near the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect back on what you are grateful for, then thank those who have supported you. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health.

Be realistic. 

Even pre-pandemic, the happy lives of the people shown in those holiday commercials are fictional. We all have struggles one time or another and it’s not realistic to expect otherwise. Remember it’s okay to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.

Set boundaries. 

Family dynamics can be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control your role. If you need to, find ways to limit your exposure.

Practice relaxation. 

Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.

Exercise daily. 

Schedule time to walk outside, bike, or whatever exercise you enjoy. Studies show that time in nature reduces stress. Need to break away from family during a holiday gathering? Talk a walk in a local park. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health. Here are some virtual SOMD workouts you could use to get your body moving.

Set aside time for yourself and prioritize self-care. 

Schedule time for activities that make you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage, listening to music you love, or taking your dog for a walk. It’s okay to prioritize alone time you need to recharge. Here are some virtual SOMD Strong Minds tips.

Eat well. 

With dinners, parties, and cookie trays at every turn, our eating habits are challenged during the holiday season. Try to maintain a healthy diet through it all. Here are some SOMD Healthy Athletes tips and recipes

Get enough sleep. 

Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep. Here are some SOMD sleep tips. 

Find support. 

Whether it’s with friends, family, a counselor, or a support group, airing out and talking can help. If you or someone you love is experiencing a crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255; or the Maryland Helpline using the information below. 

Keep up or seek therapy.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. They can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them. If you’re already seeing a therapist, keep it up.