With Thanksgiving marking the official start of the holiday season, ideas of joy and togetherness abound. But for many people, the holidays can bring complicated emotions and stress for a variety of reasons. Taking control of your emotional wellness during the holidays can help you feel better and find the season more enjoyable.

If you are among those who struggle with difficult or complex feelings around the holidays, you are not alone. Let’s explore the reasons why the holidays are stressful and learn practical tips for emotional wellness during the holiday season. 

Why are the holidays stressful?

  • The exhaustion of planning, cooking, traveling and ALL the joy (yes, excessive joy can be exhausting) can be overwhelming for a lot of people. And, if you are an introvert the stress of family gatherings and get-togethers with friends can limit the time you have to recharge in solitude.
  • For those who have experienced loss, the grief and sorrow during the season can be paralyzing. And, this year may be more difficult for many due to the loss that 2020 brought the entire world. Additionally, memories of trauma can be triggered or heightened during the holiday season.
  • Spending the holidays alone (not by choice), due to work, distance, life circumstances, can be depressing and lonely.
  • Societal pressure to spend money, especially if you are struggling with your financial situation, can create a feeling of inadequacy and heighten stress responses.

Fortunately, there are some ways to protect your mental and emotional wellness during the holidays. 

21 Emotional Wellness Tips for the Holidays:

Let’s face it, the holidays are stressful for everyone. And, for those already experiencing mental health issues, symptoms can be exacerbated or made worse at this time of year. Here are a few tips to help manage your emotional wellness during the holidays, and hopefully create space to find more joy.

  1. Practice mindfulness. Focus on the here and now, not the past or yesterday
  2. Stick to your health routines as much as possible! If you normally go for a walk or run in the morning, then make time to do that. It is ok if the turkey does not get in the oven for another 45 minutes, staying with your routine is more important!
  3. Ask for help. Don’t do it all yourself! Ask for help with meal prep, have everyone bring a dish, or split up the chores.
  4. Make a plan. Organize and prioritize your to-do list to ensure you have enough time to get things done. And, be realistic if you are adding too much to your list!  
  5. Create a safe space. Limit who you invite to your family gatherings. Do not invite those who have hurt you or whom you are in conflict with.
  6. Honor, identify and hold space for sadness or grief that you may experience because of the loss of a loved one. Create a new family tradition based on things that remind you of them or things which they loved. For example, make their favorite dish, tell stories about them. Do not block the sadness – it is important to allow yourself to feel in order to heal, and as a result gain control of those emotions.
  7. Prioritize. What is most important to you for this season? Is it a specific event, a feeling or an experience? Do you need to do the turkey trot and the family football game and the cookie making table and volunteer and donate gifts and make 15 dishes for dinner and buy 15 toys for your grandchild and… and…and. Prioritize what YOU need during this period of time; you do not need to do it all!.
  8. Have a code word with your significant other when you go to gatherings. When confronted with uncomfortable conversations or scenarios, this word can be used to mutually rescue each other from that scenario. When you know there may be conflict, plan to only stay an hour (or whatever is most comfortable) and notify the host of the plan so that there is no argument when you need to leave.
  9. Give yourself some grace and permission to say no to an event.
  10. Avoid magical thinking. Be realistic about your expectations regarding the gathering and relationships you have.  If you historically have a strained relationship with your sister, don’t expect it would be any different now. This distorted belief or “magical thinking” will only cause disappointment; be realistic.
  11. Resolve conflict prior to the gathering. A family dinner or event is not the time to bring up previous trauma or hurt feelings from previous encounters. It is not fair or purposeful to you or the other person to process the past in a public setting.  
  12. Identify a “Holiday Buddy” or a “safe spot” that you can go to if feeling overwhelmed, stimulated and or need to let that introverted self breathe.
  13. Get plenty of sleep. Lack of sleep creates a decrease in frustration tolerance and a decreased ability to regulate emotions.
  14. Remember to utilize any previously learned coping skills for stress relief.
  15. Remember that the only person you can control is yourself. You cannot control what others do, you can only control your reaction to others. 
  16. Don’t engage in culture wars, for example, “this is how we do it…” or “that’s how you are going to do that….?” or “I can’t believe that you… ”. Don’t take the bait, just move on.
  17. Drink in moderation. While alcohol may initially make you feel connected, happy or relaxed; ultimately alcohol is a depressant and makes it more difficult to regulate your emotions or make sound decisions.  
  18. Balance gift giving. More is not always merrier when it comes to presents. Rather than concrete items, choose experiences. It really is the thought that counts. 
  19. Remember the busy season is only six weeks. Don’t try and make up for all that was not done the previous 46 weeks. And this year in particular, remember that none of us can get 2020’s missed holidays back. Just enjoy the time you have now. 
  20. Set realistic goals for the holidays and or new year, be creative and think of something different and authentic; don’t set yourself up to fail. 
  21. If you are traveling for the season, keep it simple and don’t overpack. Remember what you packed has to be unpacked, then packed and unpacked again! Keep it easy and leave things at home. 

From our CoreLife Healthcare family to yours, we wish you a wonderful holiday season! In the Thanksgiving spirit, we are grateful for you!