What You Should Do Over the Holidays to Improve Your Mental Health
Here come the holidays - ready or not! If you are among the many, many people who feel the pressure come December, fear not - now is the perfect time to start turning that stress into excitement. Holiday stress is tangible, whether you’re dealing with family drama, missing someone who has passed away or worrying you have planned too much again. The good news is, you can take back control and use this time to ease your mind instead of losing it.
The holiday season can also be a great time to work on improving your stress levels, work on sleep recovery and let go of past hurts. Let’s take a look at how you can focus on your mental health - and start to heal the annual wounds you’ve been trying to deal with.
Stay on Your Sleep Schedule
You’d think this would be the best time to catch up on sleep right? Sure, catching a few extra hours of zzz’s without worrying about your alarm going off sounds magical, but if you go too far, you may be doing more damage than not. Heard of the circadian rhythm? We all have one and when we go off our regularly scheduled sleep program, it goes all out of whack, which is partly why we feel so ripped when we fly too far from our own time zone…otherwise known as jet lag.
If you are really suffering from chronic sleep deprivation, it’s not as easy as sleeping in for a few days. This study found that even after sleeping for 10 hours after 5 nights of restricted sleep (4 hours), subjects couldn’t completely catch up - or display the same levels of neurobehavior as they had before they engaged in the restricted sleep. Simply put - they still showed symptoms of sleep loss, even after a giant sleep in. Whether or not you can catch up on sleep will depend on how long you’ve been going without it.
This could also be a great time to start a new sleep schedule, as the best way to avoid incurring sleep debt it to avoid collecting it in the first place! Indulging in some mid-afternoon naps and a few extra hours of snooze time here and there to refresh your mental capacity - but don’t throw off your whole routine and have issues when you go back to normal.
Come to Terms With Holiday Drama
There aren’t many people who don’t deal with some kind of drama at the holidays. Whether it’s how to choose where to go with multiple in-laws so everyone sees the kids or having to sit through an awkward dinner with relatives who drive you nuts, it comes up every year. How are you choosing to deal with it?
Emotional stress is no joke but you can turn it around if you put your mind to it. Use this time to really consider what it is that drives you nuts. Does it revolve around one toxic person? What options do you have available to you?
- Can you do something else?
- Do you have to keep going to your Aunt Patty’s house if you leave feeling angry year after year?
- Can you speak up about how you feel? Will it change anything if you do?
- Can you let it go for one night and use it as an excuse to spend time with your beloved Uncle Frank who will also be there?
You make your own choices, so if you have been choosing to accept annual drama, unfair criticism and high levels of anxiety, why are you surprised at getting the same results? No matter what your situation, it’s OK for you to put your foot down and set boundaries - or start a new tradition of your own. If you feel a familial obligation to see your Aunt Patty, does it have to be a whole night of dinner or can you have a shorter event where you can leave after a few hours without hurting anyone’s feelings?
At the end of the day, life is too short to spend what is meant to be a happy time worrying or fighting. You are in control of what you do, how you let people treat you and how you spend your time. Now is the perfect time to make some tough decisions about how you will - or will not - put up with the same old stuff.
Honour the Memories of Those No Longer With Us
This may be the first holiday season you’ve had to have without a beloved family member, be it a person or a pet. This can be very difficult for everyone, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to start a tradition of telling those around you how much they still mean to you. You may choose to save some time to talk about them or even a safe time to share your feelings with people who care about you.
Don’t forget your Grandma, your friend or your uncle who have recently passed or passed around this time of year and don’t feel like you have to hide feelings of sadness or grief. Make sure you are comfortable with how you are choosing to spend this time and who with. There are many community groups who can help you through this difficult time if you feel alone - take the time to reach out and get the support you need.
Stop Dreading Temptation & Take Control
If you’re trying to stick to a weight goal, this can be a very stressful time. It’s so easy to throw your hard work away to indulge. “I’ll get back on the wagon in the New Year.” Whatever you decide to do, make sure you stick to the goals that are most important to you - and plan ahead. Then, let go of your worries.
If you’re trying to lose weight, consider what’s more important to you - denying yourself special food you may only get once a year or saving a few calories one night? If you just can’t say no to your Mom’s cooking - then don’t! If you’ve been rocking your goals week after week and don’t want to get off track, then don’t - but decide either way and don’t drive yourself nuts about it. No one will love you less if you have gravy.
Going off your diet for one night is not likely to ruin your hard work, but you still need to be mindful that you’ll have to get right back up on the horse the next day. Take the time to savour every bite of that homemade pie you’ve been waiting all year for - and don’t feel guilty for a second.
If it’s a matter of self-control, then make it easier on yourself. Eating ahead of time may help - if you aren’t hungry, it will be easier for you to make good choices and not be tempted. Drink lots of water! If we’re dehydrated, it’s harder to tell if we’re hungry or just thirsty, so dispel the question and drink up. Have a mantra to remind yourself of what you’re trying to achieve. How about this one:
‘Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.’
Whatever you choose - just live with it. If you’re going to eat the pie, enjoy every bite and go back to the gym tomorrow. If you don’t, resist complaining the whole night about how you’re on a diet. Guilt is a wasted emotion.
Forgive, but Don’t Forget
Reconcile with someone - the holidays may bring you face to face someone with whom you’ve had previous run-ins or issues with. Your prior inclination may have been to completely avoid them but if you’re spending more time worrying about the fact they will be there than what you’re going to bring to dinner, it may be time to forgive - but not to forget.
That fairly common trope can make you miss the point of forgiveness, according to Bob Enright, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who engineered the study of forgiveness three decades ago. ‘Forgiveness involves offering something positive, such as empathy, compassion or understanding to someone who has hurt you.’ Forgiving someone is your choice - in your own hands. It may seem like an act of selflessness, but in fact, has more to do with you giving yourself what you need than any thoughts towards the person who hurt you.
If you are holding onto anything approaching toxic levels of stress, anger or bitterness around someone in your life, the best thing you can do for yourself can be to forgive them. It’s not easy to do, but if it is affecting your health, consider how your mental capacity can improve if you start the process. What happened between you can never be changed and they themselves may still be exhibiting the hurtful behaviour. You can’t control that, but you can control how you react to them and how you choose to deal with those emotions. This may be the best time to start unravelling your feelings so you can stop dreading seeing them and start enjoying this time of year instead.
Did any of this ring true to you? When it comes to mental health, maybe we should look beyond the usual resolutions alone and address some of the recurring or deeper seeded issues we’ve been avoiding. Can any of these ideas apply to your life?
- Catch a few extra hours of sleep but don’t go completely off your sleep cycle
- Practice handling holiday drama in a healthier way
- Honour the loved ones no longer with you
- Stop worrying about the food - eat it and love it or stick to your diet - guilt is fruitless
- Practice forgiveness, if only to ease your own mind and relieve any bitterness
None of these are going to be easy, but you have the power within you to make the changes that are important to you. Enlist the help of the people you trust and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it on the first try. Your mental health is important - so take some time to invest in it. You can do this!