The holiday season can be joyful and busy, but it can also be stressful. You may be under extra financial pressure, family tensions might come to a head, or you may feel less than adequate when looking at other people’s seemingly “perfect” Instagram photos. Not surprisingly, many people suffer from a case of the blues in December.
If you already have any mental health issues, the holidays can be especially challenging. Stress can ramp up symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness says that nearly 65% of people with mental illness report that holidays make their conditions worse.
With that in mind, here are some ways to help you stay mentally healthy and enjoy the season to the fullest.
Keep your expectations realistic
It’s important to remember that no holiday is perfect, says the American Psychological Association. Instead of viewing minor mishaps and accidents (like the tree falling over or the roast burning) as catastrophes, learn to take them in stride. You may even view them as events that will make funny stories later.
Know your triggers
If you get stressed by crowded shopping malls, buy gifts online. If huge gatherings give you anxiety, skip them and opt for more intimate get-togethers. If finances are a concern, make a budget well before the holidays arrive — and stick to it.
Set boundaries with family members and friends
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed if you say yes to every holiday party invitation from extended family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. You don’t need to spend every free minute socializing over the holidays. It’s OK to take a break and spend some time alone to recharge and relax. Just be sure you don’t hole up for days on end, avoiding all human contact. This can make depression worse. Instead, find balance by choosing to attend the social events that are most important to you.
Practice relaxation techniques
Yoga, deep breathing, prayer, and meditation are all wonderful ways to unwind. You might also consider treating yourself to a therapeutic massage or spa treatment.
Avoid drinking too much
Too much alcohol can take its toll physically and mentally. Alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel worse if you’re already stressed or sad. (It can also put you at higher risk for physical problems like liver disease, pancreatitis, and various cancers.)
Helping others — whether serving a meal at a homeless shelter or collecting gifts for less fortunate children — can do wonders for your state of mind. Giving back to others can brighten your mood and put your own problems in perspective.
Taking even a short walk outside can lift your spirits. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, time outdoors can promote mental health and reduce stress. It also just feels good to breathe fresh air and move your body.
Write an end-of-year gratitude list
The holiday season is a wonderful time to look back and reflect on the positive things that happened in the past year. It may sound corny, but research has shown that expressing gratitude can improve mental health. You can even start a new family tradition (and boost your spirits) by asking everyone at a holiday gathering to share one thing they’re grateful for.
If sad feelings persist after the holidays, you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression. Talk about your feelings with your primary care provider. They can diagnose you — and recommend treatment if you need it.