Being purposeful, mindful can help with holiday stress

The holidays — sparkling lights and garlands, pretty presents, the scent of cookies and candy canes floating through the air, jingle bells and Rudolph, memories of days gone by — are referenced as a time of togetherness and family love. But for many people, especially those already prone to anxiety or depression, the expectations and obligations can make it hard to cope. There are things you can do, however, to lighten the load and make it through the season with your mental health intact.

Set Limits

Know it is OK to set limits for yourself and your family, financially and with your time. Only you know what you can afford to give. It’s OK to set a budget for what you can reasonably afford with gifts and meals.

It also is OK to prioritize who you want to spend your time with. You don’t have to attend every gathering and holiday party, and if you find yourself or your children becoming overwhelmed, it’s OK to leave early. You matter too, and taking care of yourself is just as important as caring for others.

Practice Good Self-Care

The holidays are a time of over-consumption in so many areas. Cookies and treats taste good, and in moderation are fine, but be careful not to overdo it. Too much sugar, alcohol and activity without enough sleep or down time can leave you feeling tired and sluggish, making it harder to think clearly and manage depression or anxiety.

It’s also cold outside and darker earlier, which can make getting enough exercise and sunshine difficult. Small things, like parking a little further away from an entrance when you’re out shopping, can add up and help you feel better, though. Try to maintain a reasonable sleep schedule. Even just a few minutes of focused breathing or mindfulness during your daily activities can help. Paying attention to texture and taste when you’re eating that cookie can help you get more satisfaction so you don’t overdo it and is also a mindfulness activity.

Manage Your Expectations

Christmas movies are wonderful and can help you feel festive, but they also can portray unrealistic standards for the season, causing many people to feel less than. Most families do not live up to the ideal pictured in the movies. Do your best not to compare your family to what you see on TV, and practice gratitude for what you do have. Try reminding yourself every day of one thing you are grateful for  — write it down, say it out loud, or just think about it. This can help switch your perspective from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Also know you can’t change other people, but you can set boundaries.

Ask for Help When Needed

Thankfully, the holidays are time-limited. They have a start, an end and don’t go on forever. If you find symptoms of depression and anxiety are more intense than usual or continue past the holidays, it’s OK to reach out for help. Crisis lines are open 24 hours as usual through the season, and Tanager Place has many qualified therapists who can assist you in finding new ways to cope. There’s no shame in asking for help!

Jillian Polaski, LMFT, a therapist at our Coralville Behavioral Health Clinic, authored this post.

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