The holiday season can be filled with mixed emotions. Our excitement, cheer and joy can easily switch to exhaustion, stress and anxiety – depending on the situation. Navigating family dynamics, financial issues, travel, and social gatherings – all of which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – can make it even trickier to cope with these ups and downs.
According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 38% of people said their stress increased during the holiday season, and a study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that almost two-thirds, 64%, of people with mental illness said the holidays made their condition worse.
Expectations for what we think this time of year should be like can make us question how we are coping day-to-day. Rather than striving to achieve an unrealistic ideal holiday season, try finding ways to be present, listening to your mind and body, and supporting those around you to do the same.
While this time of year is typically focused on giving to others, here are some ways you can give back to yourself and prioritize your mental health during the holidays:
- Don’t feel pressured to overcommit. When planning your holiday schedule, prioritize your mental well-being by finding time to meditate, reflect and decompress. Say “no” to plans with individuals who might negatively impact your mental health. Ask yourself, “Will this activity make me feel better when I leave?” or, “Is this person helping me be a better version of myself?”
- Give your body the fuel and exercise it needs. The holiday season and indulgent eating often go hand-in-hand. Keeping a balanced diet and exercising regularly is important for both physical and mental health.
- Give your family, loved ones and friends a healthy place to gather. As we all continue to cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, follow the current CDC and state guidelines to ensure your holiday gatherings are safe and prioritize everyone’s health.
- Manage your expectations. The fantasy of holidays where no children cry, everyone finds romance, and years-long family challenges get resolved during a special celebration are just that: fantasies! In the real world, children will have issues, loneliness and confrontation are common, and there will be family members who irritate you. Rather than expect change, seek out the interactions and memories that are positive for you. Changing your internal narrative is one of your greatest superpowers. It takes skill, but you can completely change how you experience the holidays if you try.
Remember to give yourself a break and breathe. Take inventory of people who take care of you and build a community of support. Lean on them when you need help – there is no shame in asking for help.
Bond will share more tips for holiday coping on Dec.15 during a live event with ABC7 Bay Area Reporter Jobina Fortson. Viewers can tune in on Blue Shield’s LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube channels to watch.
Mental health resources for Blue Shield members can be found here.
Many Blue Shield of California members may have access to Wellvolution’s lifestyle-based tools to lose weight, treat diabetes, and support mental health. Visit wellvolution.com to learn more.
For additional help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).
David Bond is director of behavioral health and lifestyle medicine at Blue Shield of California.