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  • Writer's pictureDana Qablawi

12 Simple Strategies to Overcome the Overwhelm at the Holidays

Updated: Jan 3

Women shopping holiday season overwhelm mental health support

As we begin to approach the holiday season I wanted to take some time to discuss the importance of prioritizing your own mental health. While the holiday season can bring about feelings of holly and jolly, it can also bring up feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress. Taking some time for yourself and your mental health this holiday season is important, especially when you may be surrounded by social events, gift giving, and travelling. 

Why Does the Holiday Season Bring About These Feelings

There is no clear driving factor as to what brings about the development of these holiday blues but if we really break it down there is a lot that occurs during the holidays. The changes in time and weather may bring about seasonal affective disorder, excess social commitments, emotional and financial pressures, and even the criticism we may receive from our families. There are also many individuals who live apart from their families and are unable to see them over the season. This can bring about feelings of loneliness and stress. 

Regardless of the reasons, you are not alone in the feelings you experience over the holiday season. The important thing is to learn how to manage both mental and emotional health during this time of year through positive and healthy methods. 

When it comes to our mental health, it isn’t something that comes and goes and it is not a linear process. We may have been having a great couple of months but notice as we approach the holiday’s our mental health begins to take a turn. That is completely okay! 

When we talk about the holiday blues what we are really referring to is feelings of excess stress, often due to unrealistic exceptions around the holiday season. Finding the right methods to help you work through these feelings of frustration, sadness, fatigue, anxiety, loneliness, and many more are essential! Doing so will help to alleviate the stress you may be feeling and hopefully bring about a new perspective that will allow you to enjoy the season and the new year to come. 

Finding Ways to Positively Manage Your Mental Health This Season

Before we get into some ways to help manage stress during the holidays, I wanted to take a moment and note that everyone is different. What may work for one person may not work for another and that is okay. We are all unique, our mental health situations are unique, and the circumstances around us are unique. It's all about finding what works for you.

Tip 1: Set Aside Time for Yourself 

If you start to feel as though things are becoming too hectic, don’t be afraid to step away and take some time for yourself to destress. The holidays are often filled with jam packed schedules of plans and gatherings which can sometimes become mentally draining. Setting aside some time for yourself and prioritizing your needs is important. 

Setting aside time for ourselves can also allow us to implement our own holiday traditions. If you love to knit, then knit and make it part of your holiday festivities. Same with baking, cooking, spa days, or just anything that makes you happy and brings some holiday cheer!

Tip 2: Give Yourself Permission to Feel Your Emotions 

When you begin to feel an array of emotions, remind yourself that is is okay to feel them. Giving yourself permission to feel your emotions can go a long way. When we try to deny our emotions and feelings, this can actually harm us more than feeling our emotions. 

If you begin to feel as though your emotions are taking over, you can utilize some of these positive coping strategies: taking deep breaths, journaling, meditating, taking a nap, stepping back from a specific situation, and engage in some positive self-talk. 

Tip 3: Be Patient With Yourself and With Others

It’s important to keep in mind that it takes time, patience, and self-compassion to sort out complicated emotions and to understand the circumstances surrounding them. Slowing down our bodies and mind can help to bring down stress levels. You can do this by making deep breathing exercises a daily practice. Rather than becoming angry or irritated, work on viewing the situation through a new lens and responding with kindness even in tough situations

Practice self-compassion this holiday season. We are more likely to be critical of ourselves when we feel down or ashamed. One way you can practice self-compassion this holiday season is by treating yourself as you would a friend—for example, use self-talk that includes comforting or affectionate words. 

Tip 4: Adjust Your Expectations

Having expectations of how our holiday season will go is inevitable. Just remember that circumstances can change. If we set expectations too high, then it can be easy for us to be disappointed if things do not work out. The same can be said for setting expectations too low. If we stop ourselves from enjoying our time with friends, family, significant others, or even just ourselves, we can rob ourselves from a good time. It is okay to be excited and it is also okay to be disappointed, the main thing to remember is that circumstances can change and that, no matter what happens, you get to choose how you want to feel. You can still have a good time, even if things don't go according to plan.

Tip 5: Establish Boundaries

Learn to say no to extra commitments or activities that will overwhelm you. Set clear boundaries with family and friends about what you can and cannot handle. If there is a challenging part of your life that you're dealing with and don't wish to discuss, let your loved ones know ahead of time.

Tip 6: Delegate & Ask For Help

You don't have to do everything on your own. If you're hosting an event, delegate tasks to family members or friends to share the workload. That way you can feel less frazzeled and are more likely to actually enjoy yourself after all your hard work.

Tip 7: Stick to a Budget

Financial stress can be a significant source of holiday anxiety. Set a budget for gifts, decorations, food and festivities and stick to it, to avoid overspending and the stress that comes with it. When it comes to gift giving, it may be necessary to speak to loved ones to set clear boundaries on how much each person will spend. Extended families with young children may choose to only give gifts to the children and not the adults, to avoid overspending.

Tip 8: Practice Mindfulness

Take a few moments each day for mindfulness practices such as writing down 3 things you're grateful for, deep breathing or meditation. This can help you stay present, reduce stress, and improve your overall welbeing. If you want to try breathwork or meditation but aren't sure where to start, search for a guided meditation on your favourite music platform or YouTube.

Tip 9: Celebrate in Moderation

While it's tempting to indulge in holiday treats every time they're offered, try to maintain a balance. Ensure you're still eating regular, balanced meals outside of holiday events - this can help keep your blood sugar stable which helps with mood and prevents strong cravings. Overeating and excessive drinking can contribute to feeling physically and mentally unwell, including feelings of guilt or shame. Alcohol use can also worsen sleep and mental health.

Tip 10: Connect with Loved Ones

Reach out to friends and family for support. Share your feelings and let them know how they can help. Sometimes, just talking about your feelings can be therapeutic; it helps you feel heard, understsood and cared for, and as humans, we all need to feel that way.

Tip 11: Create New Traditions

If old traditions are causing stress, consider creating new ones that align with your current circumstances and priorities. If finances are tight, perhaps instead of a gift exchange you do a cookie exchange, a gingerbread house building contest or go skating.

Tip 12: Laugh and Have Fun

Don't forget to have fun! Watch a funny movie, play games, or engage in activities that bring joy and laughter. Laughter naturally boosts the body's feel-good endorphins as well as mood boosting serotonin and dopamine. It also creates connection and a sense of bonding with those you love.

Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and creating positive memories. By taking care of yourself and implementing these strategies, you can navigate the season with greater ease and enjoyment.

Know You Can Always Reach Out for Help

Whether you are reaching out to a friend, a family member, a counsellor, or a support group, reaching out to talk can always help. Speaking to someone you trust can help to bring focus to any specific triggers and how to utilize healthy tools to overcome the negative feelings. 

For 24/7 help, ConnexOntario can offer free mental health support that is confidential. They can help by listening, offering support, and provide strategies to work through your circumstances. To contact them you can call 1-866-531-2600 or online chat through their cite. 

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