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Prioritizing Self-Care During the Holiday Season

by | Dec 9, 2022 | Depression, Holidays, Self-Care

Forward, Together with western tidewater community services board

The holiday season is thought of as a time of joy and fun, but, for some, it can be a difficult time. Many people experience anxiety or depression during the holidays. The ‘holiday blues’ can be caused by added stress, sentimental or sad memories, grief, or unrealistic expectations others put on us, or that we put on ourselves.

Signs You Might Have the Holiday Blues

The ‘holiday blues’ are short-term feelings of depression or anxiety that are experienced during the holiday season, usually during November and December. In a 2014 survey by NAMI, 64% of people with mental illness reported that the holidays make their condition worse, and in 2021, 3 in 5 Americans reported feeling that their mental health is negatively impacted by the holiday. So if you’re feeling down this holiday season, you’re not the only one.

You might have the ‘holiday blues’ if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, and they started during the holiday season:

  • A persistent or recurring feeling of sadness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Feelings of stress or anxiety
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems concentrating
  • A loss of enjoyment in the things you usually love

5 Ways to Prioritize Your Self-Care This Holiday Season

You can avoid or minimize the negative effects of the holidays on you by taking care of yourself. We tend to take even less time for self-care this time of year, putting it off to focus instead on the added stresses and obligations of the season. Here are five ways you can prioritize your self-care this year:

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No

Something that can really add to our holiday stress is saying ‘yes’ to everything. You might not want to miss out on anything, so end up saying yes to every party invite; or you might not want to seem ungracious, so you host Christmas again this year, when you’re actually dreading cooking for and entertaining the entire family again. Setting boundaries is crucial when it comes to protecting our mental health and our relationships with others, and saying ‘no’ sometimes is an important part of that.

2. Set a Budget – And Stick to It!

Many people experience financial stress during the holidays. It’s understandable to want to give gifts to all the people in your life, but spending more than you can afford will bring about those negative feelings that are sometimes associated with the holidays. Instead, shift the focus back to the origins of this festive time of year – give smaller gifts, that are handmade or sentimental. After all, gift giving isn’t about spending a lot of money, but about giving someone something that you know will bring them a little bit of joy.

3. Everything in Moderation

Many of us use the holidays as an excuse to eat and drink however much we want, but excess can lead to weight gain and physical discomfort, and can add to those feelings of guilt that a lot of people experience this time of year. Go ahead and enjoy your holiday favorites, but try eating mindfully. Mindful eating means that you’re maintaining an in-the-moment awareness of the food and drink you’re consuming, observing how it makes you feel, and the signals your body is sending you. But mindful eating does not mean judging yourself. Rather, it means that you acknowledge your feelings and thoughts, react as necessary, and then accept them and move on.

4. Set Reasonable Expectations

Many of us have high expectations for the holiday season, and, with countless feel-good holiday movies telling us that this is the most wonderful and magical time of the year, why wouldn’t we? But it’s important to set realistic expectations. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have hope for a wonderful holiday season! But setting unrealistic expectations can lead to disappointment, and feelings that the holidays weren’t successful.

If your partner never quite hits the mark when it comes to gift giving, don’t expect them to suddenly buy you the perfect gift this year. Instead, be clear about what you’d like, or allow yourself to be content with whatever choice they make. If your family has been estranged for years, don’t hope for a magical reconciliation in the snow. Instead, find the positives in the situation, and do what you can to strengthen and maintain the bonds you do have with your family.

5. Make Time For Some Holiday Self-Care

For many of us, the holiday season means a packed schedule. If you find that a lot of your free time is being taken up by holiday commitments, schedule some time for yourself to enjoy some holiday self-care. This could be enjoying the simple traditions you love, like decorating or watching holiday movies, or you can make some new traditions. And if you often feel obligated to buy gifts for people you don’t necessarily want to give a gift to (colleagues, distant relatives, etc.), empower yourself to set some boundaries and allocate that money to your own self-care – perhaps an annual holiday spa day?

A Community of Hope

The holidays can be full of happiness and excitement, but the same things that can give us those feelings can also add to our stress or other negative feelings. It’s important to take the time for self-care, so you can enjoy the holiday season to the fullest.

If you’re feeling new depression or anxiety this holiday season, or your mental health condition has worsened, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. WTCSB is your single point of entry for access to mental health services, developmental disabilities support, and substance abuse services for Franklin and Suffolk and the counties of Isle of Wight and Southampton, but we’re more than that – we’re a community of hope and caring.

You can make an appointment online for same-day access or by calling 757-758-5106, or if you need to talk to someone right away, you can call our 24/7 crisis line at 757-925-2484.

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