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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

While the holidays are often a magical time – with everyone happy, generous, and exploding with joy – they can also be a difficult season to navigate. And unintentionally or not, that expectation of universal merriment can make existing struggles even harder to manage

There are a number of reasons that this time of year can be especially difficult:

  • Dealing with loss – whether it be from death, divorce, or something else – is never easy but it can be particularly poignant over the holidays, a traditional time of togetherness.
  • Traveling “home” over the holidays can stir up all sorts of memories and emotions – not all of them positive.
  • The hype and build-up of the season can inspire and exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • For those who struggle with their behavioral health, upsets in healthy routines can make managing their mental health or substance use much more difficult.
  • The holidays are also a highly stressful time of year – the pressures of entertaining, gift-giving, socializing, visiting family, shopping, etc. add up and anxiety can have negative effects on our health.

Fortunately, none of us are alone in our efforts to make it through the holiday season unscathed, and there are many ways to both make it easier and look out for our behavioral health.

  1. Be selfish – self-care is just that: looking after yourself. Sometimes you need to say no – and that’s okay. Only commit to what you are comfortable doing and what you think will honestly make you happy.
  2. Give yourself the space to feel what you feel – acknowledge the high stress of the holiday season, especially if you struggle with your behavioral health, and be compassionate to yourself.
  3. Find an outlet – likely you already have some activities that you turn to when you’re feeling stressed or working through difficult emotions. Even if you don’t, the holidays are a time when you may need an outlet more than ever – journaling, exercising, playing music, making art, baking, or whatever else helps you manage your feelings.
  4. Be patient with yourself – emotions are not something you can schedule. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one or relationship, give yourself the time to feel and process that.
  5. Advocate for yourself – there are plenty of elements of the holiday season that are out of our control (the weather, traffic, etc.), so make your needs known where they can make a difference and ask for help when you need it.
  6. Avoid FOMO – consider taking a social media break to help keep yourself present in the moment.
  7. Look for ways to build connections with others – invite a neighbor over for a meal, volunteer at a local shelter, or reach out to friends and family you’ve fallen out of touch with.
  8. Practice gratituderesearch shows that having an attitude of gratitude is consistently associated with greater happiness. Try making a list of things you have that you value rather than a list of gifts you want. Send a thank-you card for something you’ve received, or better yet, for something less tangible like a good friend or mentor. Being grateful can help you appreciate the good things you have in your life.
  9. Follow healthy drinking habits – alcohol consumption goes up in the U.S. during the holidays and the pressure to drink socially can make holiday gatherings stressful or even dangerous. Be sure not to drink on an empty stomach, set a limit for yourself and stick to it, always organize a safe way to get home, and prepare yourself with how you’ll say “no” to a drink in a way that won’t make you feel self-conscious (“I’m not drinking tonight,” or “Drinking gives me migraines.”).
  10. Treat your body well with balanced nutrition – but don’t feel guilty when indulging during the holidays. Moderation is key and is a far healthier response to holiday treats than overindulgence or restriction. Take your time with meals and enjoy the special foods available this time of year.

However you are celebrating or abstaining from the holidays this year, remember to take care of yourself. And if you or a loved one needs immediate support, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the word “ACT” to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.