Oh, the Holidays: Keeping Yourself Mentally Healthy & Actually Relaxing

Do the holidays stress you out? You are not alone. The holidays can be a joyous time but at the same time a challenging and hectic one. Some people feel the amplification of social expectations while others may experience loneliness and isolation. Holiday depression, anxiety and stress can affect anyone at any age. Whether you’re dealing with a major life change or you’re a busy parent with an overwhelming to-do list, these simple tips will help you stay mentally healthy and provide ways to relax this season. Remember, YOU matter!

Keep it simple The holiday food obsession is not necessary. You do not need turkey, ham, 12 side dishes, 3 cocktail options and 8 pies. Ok…scratch the pie thing…you do you! Everything on your table does not have to be homemade. You do not need the entire house decorated if you don’t feel up to it. If you prefer or want pasta and bread over turkey and stuffing, then grate up the Parmesan and get ready for a carb overload for the record books!

Let go of the little things Many of us make our own stress by buying into the “have to” and “should” statements. There is very little in life we can control, so try accepting things just as they are. Take time every day to enjoy something about the season; the crisp weather, the festive salesclerk. Find humour and lightness in the small things; a burnt pie crust or a Pinterest fail. Work at accepting things as they come, not worrying about how they “should” be. Put your energy into the present moment. Wrapping a gift can be just another holiday chore or it can be a way to quietly celebrate what the recipient means to you.

Remember, you matter Even if your days are feeling chaotic, don’t put yourself on the back burner. The daily constants of getting enough sleep, eating right, and exercising can greatly alleviate excess stress. Many benefit plans run January to December, so make sure you use all the perks before ringing in the new year. Try scheduling a massage, or another treatment that helps you take care of yourself and feel relaxed. Disconnect from your phone and email, if possible; plan times when you will check in, then leave devices alone. Social media can wait.

Be grateful You’ve heard it before; the holidays are about gratitude. Research shows taking time to be grateful every day has both physical and mental health benefits. It helps build our immune system, keeps us in touch with the positive aspects of life, and connects us with others. We can be grateful for having enough food to eat, for catching up with an old friend, or for the way your dog wags his tail every time you return home. Giving someone a hug or telling them why you’re grateful for them causes the brain to release the hormone, oxytocin; leaving both of you feeling gooey with love and appreciation for each other.

Have an exit plan If crowds of people, your family, the stress of cooking, or anything else overwhelms you, give yourself space to retreat. Go outside, to a private room, or even sit on the toilet—toddlers don’t understand this boundary but at least adults will leave you alone for a minute. An after-dinner walk is a great way to have a breather, as you can go completely solo or with just a few others for time to decompress.

Take time to reflect Another brain chemical, serotonin, is released whenever you reflect on meaningful events and achievements from the past. Take time to remind yourself of important people and personal accomplishments from the past year. Visualizing these events will fuel and energize you to get back to work after the holiday season. You can even try this at the dinner table with family if you need a conversation starter!

The holiday season may be busy, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming or exhausting. We have the ability to focus on things we care about and spread joy from the inside out. After all, the best gift we can give ourselves and those around us is our own peace of mind.

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