Food, family, and emotions: How to take care of your mental health this Holiday season
The holidays can mean different things to different people. While for many, the end of one year and the start to another brings happiness, love and connection, however for others, the sights and sounds of the holiday season can trigger increased stress, trauma or mental health symptoms. Because the holidays are friend and family oriented, those without either may be left feeling lonely and sad. The lonely become more aware of their loneliness, and the grieving are more sensitive to those who are not with us. For most, increased financial demands, hosting guests, traveling, meals, or family conflict, can lead to increased stress and anxiety.
The “holiday blues”can be caused by environmental, financial, or relational factors, which can contribute to increased depression and anxiety around this time. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a serious form of depression that most often occurs during the winter months, and can create symptoms of fatigue, isolation, insomnia, weight loss or gain, and mood swings. Many psychologists emphasize the importance of maintaining healthy lifestyles during this season, and do the little things, such as having a proper sleep schedule, daily exercise, a balanced diet, and organizing time, in order to reduce stress.
As we approach the “most wonderful time of the year”, being mindful and proactive about mental wellness during the holiday season is vital. With a range of emotions that can be present, mental health symptoms are at risk for worsening and may lead to increased substance use, mood changes or disordered eating. With the combination of food, family, and holiday expectations, it is important to take care of your mental health by creating healthy boundaries, practicing mindfulness and utilizing those self- regulating coping skills!
Here are five tips to tackle your mental health during the holiday season.
Using mindfulness techniques such as meditation, breathwork, and journaling, can help gain self-awareness and stay in the present moment. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, during Thanksgiving and Christmas, the average American will consume up to 14% more food than they would on any other given day. To avoid emotional eating, paying attention to hunger and fullness cues and the nutritional value of common holiday food items, will help eliminate urges to restrict, binge, or create food- guilt. Frequent engagement in body scans can help you check in with what emotions may be existing and where you feel them in your body. If you pay close attention to your internal experience, you will have greater chances of coping through any emotional distress.
Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope
The culture around the holiday season certainly involves more substance use due to work, family, and friend holiday parties and social events. With a risk of increased emotions, it is important to be mindful of not using substances as outlets to self- soothe. Although engaging in alcohol and substances can initially make a person feel less stressed or more happy, it often is accompanied with increased anxiety or depression afterwards, and can lead to higher risk of engaging in dangerous or uncharacteristic behaviors.
Maintain your relationship boundaries and expectations
Give yourself permission to say ‘no” this season, if saying ‘yes’ will be sacrificing your health and healing. It is okay to set limits with those who you interact with during this time of the year. If certain individuals are simply unable to contribute positivity to your wellness or relationship, set boundaries that are necessary for you to be your best self.
Be intentional with your wellness
Choose to be proactive about the things that contribute to mental wellness. This means prioritizing proper sleep hygiene, movement and exercise, sunlight exposure, eating nutritious foods, and engaging in social connection. Avoid isolating yourself, create a budget for holiday expenses, and don’t over-commit to plans. After all, the best gift you can give yourself is to take care of your mind and body!
Talk with your therapist
It’s easy to get busy, distracted, or become on auto-pilot during the holiday season. This is all the more reason why it is important to communicate with your therapist about what is coming up for you during this time. With the many events and interactions of the holidays, psychotherapy is a great outlet to process, gain clarity, and receive support.
Schaeffer, C. (2015). Psychology today: 6 tips for holiday self care. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201512/6-tips-holiday-self-care
Shelby, E.A. (2021). Alcohol or Drug Use during Social and Family Gatherings, Events, and Holidays: Be Well Recovery. Retrieved from https://bewellrecovery.com/blog/alcohol-or-drug-use-during-social-and-family-gatherings-events-and-holidays/
Tunajek, S. (2006). ‘Tis the Season: Finding Balance during the Holidays. AANA Journal, 60 (12), pages 26-27