It’s something we all strive for, isn’t it? The stress-free holiday, where music and laughter and love fill the air. The family gathering filled with good times and no hurt feelings. Basically, a Lifetime movie wrapped up in Disneyland bow.
But what if you have mental health issues, physical health issues, or just plain old issues with the holidays? Trust me, I’ve thrown in the towel on more than a few celebrations to retreat from the world until January 2nd rolled around. And that’s OK. If you need to sit this one out, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. For all of us, here are a few tips for maintaining your mental health and wellness this winter:
1. Keep expectations manageable
I love to dream about creating the perfect holiday memories for my family. Finding the perfect gifts, staying within our budget, making it to all the events we’ve been invited to…the list continues. These dreams are unrealistic for me though and I’ve had to learn the hard way to keep my expectations manageable. Write it all down and take an honest look at what you are trying to accomplish this holiday season. Now cross off all that shit that stresses you out just thinking about it.
2. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do
Love the way twinkling lights look on your neighbor’s house but you’re terrified of heights? Then it’s realistic to accept you won’t be hanging your own outdoor lights this year. If driving at night fills you with dread, skip the evening events. Baking isn’t your strong suit? Then don’t bother with it. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone, just make sure you are realistic about what you can and cannot do.
3. Leave the past behind and look forward to the future
We’ve all had bad experiences in the past. Leave it behind you – the moment is gone and as the years pass your memories of it will change. Just for this year, try forgetting about it and look forward to the future. By committing to your own well-being this year you are guaranteeing a better holiday than those crappy ones from before.
4. Be of service to someone else
And here we get to the whole reason for the season. Step outside of yourself and give back. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture (sure, volunteering at a homeless shelter is noble, but some of us can’t do that. See #2 above). It can be as simple as offering to help watch Jenny’s kids for a few hours so she can have time to finish shopping. You can offer to walk your neighbor’s dog while they are gone for the weekend so they don’t have to spring for huge boarding fees. Our favorite activity when the kids were little was to bring big baskets of cookies and baked loaves of bread to the local fire station for all of our heroes working through the holiday.
5. Enjoy outdoor activities
Get your body moving and get outside. If that means you have to bundle up and brave the wind chill factor, just do it. Check out some tips from Verla over at Trees Mend Us for ways to stay cozy and active outdoors: How to Recover Health, Hope, and Happiness With the Help of Trees. Too much time spent indoors isn’t healthy for anyone. What is your favorite winter activity and how long has it been since you’ve enjoyed it? Don’t make excuses, just get moving.
6. Be aware of excessive drinking
Those tasty mixed drinks will sneak up on you. That bottle of wine will disappear quickly. Those toasts to good tidings can catch up to you fast. Do you really want to make your poor liver work overtime this season? Remember to stay hydrated with WATER as you enjoy your drinking, pace yourself, and for the love of all that’s good, DON’T DRINK AT THE OFFICE PARTY.
7. Spend time with supportive and caring people
This is vital to a stress-free holiday. If Uncle Johnny won’t keep his trap shut about the orange monkey in the White House and you can’t stomach another minute around him, guess what? You don’t have to. You are under no obligation to spend your precious time or energy with people who suck. The holidays are a time of joy and you deserve to spend it with people who support you and care about you.
Taking good care of yourself now is more important than ever. The best way to keep calm and carry on is to remain committed to your self-care routine. Holiday self-care is all about resting and recharging each day. Make time in your busy schedule to focus on yourself. Here are some ideas to add to your toolbox:
1. Take the day off (if possible)
Take the day off from work or your at-home responsibilities. The world won’t stop if you don’t show up. Give yourself permission to just take a mental-health day and reset. Again, you don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. This is your time to focus on your mind, body and spirit. Not sure what to do? Keep reading:
2. Read a book
Unplug from the electronics at night and go analog with your reading. Really, just pick up a book and get lost in the pages. This is one of my favorite activities to fully enjoy “me time” and I schedule it in every evening. What book have you been wanting to read?
3. Get a massage
If this is your thing, set up the appointment or enlist your significant other to give you a massage. This can be an instant stress reliever for you and has the added bonus on undoing all the knots you’ve been carrying. (of course, if the thought of this makes you cringe, skip it!)
4. Take a walk outside
It’s the second time I’ve listed getting outdoors because that’s how important it is to your mental health and wellness. Even if you just walk to the end of the block and back, you will feel refreshed when you make it outside.
5. Skip cooking/order in
Give yourself a break from the kitchen and skip cooking. You can order in and enjoy our next tip on the list:
6. Watch your favorite movie
There are endless holiday movies out this time of year and you are allowed to settle in and enjoy your favorite. Do you have a movie that is a “must-see” every year? Schedule a night to turn off any distractions and get lost in the entertainment. Bonus if it makes you laugh!
7. Take a nap
If the afternoon slump has got you feeling low, set aside 20-30 minutes to just take a nap. According to the National Sleep Foundation “As a nation, the United States appears to be becoming more and more sleep deprived. And it may be our busy lifestyle that keeps us from napping. While naps do not necessarily make up for inadequate or poor quality nighttime sleep, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance. Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap.”
8. Spend time coloring
Recapture the childlike spirit of the season and spend some time coloring. The idea is to stay present in the moment and experience the therapeutic benefits of coloring. There is a reason “adult coloring books” have exploded in popularity! When you take the time to fully participate in the experience of coloring you are able to shut off racing thoughts and relieve anxiety.
9. Bake a special treat “just because”
Some of us attend holiday cookie exchanges, or bake holiday treats for our loved ones, or find ourselves committed to some other type of holiday baking. If this is stressful, you are allowed to say no. And it is perfectly fine for you to just decide to bake a decadent treat for yourself. Pinterest is full of recipes that are easy, delicious and designed just for one (like these 5-minute mug cakes!).
10. Try deep breathing or meditation.
If you have a regular practice of meditation, make sure you continue it through the holidays. If that isn’t your thing, take the time to incorporate some deep breathing for 5 minutes a day. You can start your morning with this exercise: inhale all the positive feelings and thoughts you want and exhale all your negative feelings and thoughts.
11. Have a spontaneous dance party
Sometime during the week, you should break out into a dance party and just let loose! Shake it like you’re a little kid again and let your body move. Turn up the music loud, close your eyes and bust a move!
12. Enjoy a spa day at home
This is the bit of self-care that people consider frivolous or extravagant and that’s a load of bullsh*t. You are allowed to pamper yourself without having to blow the budget or feel guilty. Not sure where to start? Check out the WikiHow link for How to Have a Relaxing Spa Day at Home.
13. Get plenty of sleep
I can’t emphasize this enough: SLEEP IS VITAL TO YOUR WELL BEING. Do not make the mistake of burning the candle at both ends and staying up for all hours of the night trying to get things done (or partying until you drop). To protect your mental health and wellness you need to make getting enough sleep a priority. Nothing flips the switch to a manic phase faster than losing valuable shut-eye time. Even if that means you have to be the first guest to leave the party, or the gift wrapping has to wait until morning, make sure you get plenty of sleep.
Need more help planning your holidays? Sign up for our newsletter and gain access to the FREE RESOURCES library. Here you will find our 16 page Holiday Planning guide to help stay on track this season.
What are some of the other ways to protect your sanity through the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!
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