During the holidays, I feel like there is an even split of people who can’t wait to be around family and people who dread the idea of having to see family. Whatever your preference is, this year may amplify or disappoint those expectations. For those who love to visit family, it may not be safe to do so. For those who hate being around family, you may not have a choice. Whether this is covid, family, or mental health-related, holidays bring about mixed feelings of joy and anxiety for some. Navigating the holidays will never be easy, but perhaps finding some coping strategies could make things more bearable this year.
Stressors are inevitable, and what can make these stressors so overwhelming is not preparing for them to occur. Consider all the things you dread about this time of year and find ways to prepare for when these things trigger you. This holiday season, we are still in a pandemic, something we could not have prepared for and something challenging to cope with and plan around. However, prioritize finding ways to spend this time of year that will benefit you, your mind, and your safety. Here are ten practical mental health and coping tips so you can have a safe and sane holiday season.
Mentally prepare yourself & temper your expectations.
Something that can help you prepare yourself for what is to come is to manage and control your expectations. Taking time to be realistic with yourself and your situation may help you hone into your anxious feelings. Figure out all the places your mind is wandering right now, what are you expecting to go right and what are you expending to go wrong? Of all of those things, what is a realistic expectation, and what is a pure exaggeration? Sometimes asking yourself, “Is this realistic,” will bring you back to a conscious place. In regards to mentally preparing yourself, figure out what is meaningful for you, and how can you celebrate that while being safe and minimizing the onset of stress? What options make sense? Spend some time thinking about the days ahead and what those days look like for you. Focus on kindness. Remember we are dealing with something new and it is an adjustment for us all. Be kind to yourself; you’re allowed to mourn the holiday season you wanted to have while preparing for the one you’re forced to have.
Make safe choices for you, your family, and others.
While we are in a pandemic, it’s hard not to notice the amounts of people that still move about as if it isn’t a big deal. While I understand the feeling of missing my life and my traditions, I know that there are people I love and care about more. If you are going to be around friends and family this holiday season, be smart. There are ways to be physically distant and socially together if that is what you choose. Be mindful about testing. Many people assume that they are non-infectious just because they have no symptoms; however, that may not be the case. If you and your loved ones are adamant about spending time together, take these next couple of weeks to quarantine AND get tested. Some places have a delay with testing, so you may want to take care of that sooner than later so you have a result hopefully by the time you need it. Regardless of your beliefs around the virus, be mindful of those who can’t afford to be as cavalier; younger children, your elders, friends or family with preexisting conditions, and coworkers you may see after the holidays.
Take time for yourself.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent ENOUGH time by yourself this year. However, don’t let that deter you from NEEDING to take some intentional time alone. If you are working, spending time with family, or spending the holiday alone, carve out some time to take space and process what you’re feeling and experiencing. It may not always be pleasant, but it’s essential to weed through your feelings and find some peace. Try to find comfort in gratitude and finding small things to celebrate in a time where celebrating may be the farthest thing from your mind. Holiday blues are real, and a pandemic in the midst of it is no icing on the cake, but it can help find ways to bring yourself joy through the little things in a space designed only for you.
Make time for the family and friends you enjoy
While practicing social distancing and safe behavior, finding ways to spend time with the family and friends you enjoy, you may be able to combat feelings of loneliness and sadness this season. Making sure you utilize your familiar connections with people through any forms of communications that work for you. Isolating yourself may be a preference for some, but for those that need connection during this time of year, even if it is hard, try to maintain your relationships. If you’re stuck around family, cling to the family member least likely to make you feel anxious or angry, have a friend on standby that you can call or FaceTime as an escape. When feeling angry, anxious, or alone, not all company is good company. Be mindful of who you bond with during this time, and if you have a say, make sure it’s someone you can rely on emotionally.
Create a coping system for yourself
I constantly reiterate that you will always know yourself better than anyone else ever will. Consider the things that get under your skin, make you tick, or overwhelm you. If you’re in an unfamiliar situation over the holidays, be mindful of how your body may be reacting and set a system in place for yourself to get away and take a breather. Even if you are celebrating alone, if you find yourself feeling emotionally overwhelmed, take that energy and do something intentional that brings you back. If you’re around family and friends that you can’t escape (long-term), take some space for yourself to regroup and get your emotions in check. It may be rude in some households, but don’t forget the power of headphones in a crowded space. Even if you are using them as a deterrent. Find an isolated place and escape for 10-15 minutes and rejoin the festivities.
Have an emotional accountability buddy
At least five people in my close network know how I get during this time of year. I isolate, I get irritable, overly emotional, and frustrated. Having these people in my life makes it easy for me to keep myself in check when flying past all my indicators to take some space and straight towards destructive tendencies. Remember that sometimes the people who know you well often know how to console you. When you have a coping plan for yourself, please share it with someone who can remind you of what you may need at the moment. Then, check-in repeatedly so that you’re keeping from feeling trapped in a situation with others or yourself.
Set limits and boundaries
For those who cannot escape the family gets together this year and those who genuinely want to spend that time with family this year, it is essential to set limits and boundaries around your home, space, and yourself. A lot of people get comfortable around familiar faces and don’t always act accordingly. If someone is in your area, remind them that we are in a pandemic, and you would feel comfortable with more space between you two. If someone mentions something triggering, unsettling, or even offensive, find a way to redirect the conversation and assert your boundaries. It’s easy to have negative expectations when you know you’re going to be around certain people or in a particular atmosphere; use those expectations to prepare your limits and boundaries. If you are spending time away from family by choice or because of covid, be firm in the decisions you’re taking to uphold that. I know a lot of people that were emotionally bullied into participating in Thanksgiving celebrations and now some of them have covid. Boundaries are as much for others as they are for yourself. Trust what you stand by and be as assertive as you can when conveying those limits to others.
Avoid stress-related overeating
During the holidays, overeating is almost always encouraged and celebrated as part of the holiday tradition. However, overeating can also be a gateway behavior for those that tend to tuck their emotions away and use various outlets to cope. The holidays can also be a significant stressor for those that battle with eating disorders, so be sure to check in with your support system if you’re feeling a little extra pressure at home during the pandemic. Listen to your body and your emotions. If food is a comfort for you when it shouldn’t be, try drinking a glass of water when you feel your emotions getting out of whack. Drinking water could simulate a full feeling, even if temporary, and deter any binging behavior. Consider a physical activity or something that keeps your mind and your hands busy. (Examples: getting on the computer, video games, journaling, painting, creating, figuring out puzzles, etc.) If you know food is something you struggle with around the holiday, try some alternative snacks that you can binge on like, veggie trays, water crackers, cheese bites, pretzels, dried cranberries, or trail mix. Again, overeating this time of year is often a given. However, be mindful about how you’re feeling and notice if you’re using food to minimize certain feelings.
Be mindful of substance use
End-of-the-day-drinking has become a popular way to relieve stress, and has become worse around the winter season with the drinks everyone offers, holiday-themed cocktails, booze-filled eggnog, mulled wine, and spiked ciders. However, alcohol may not provide as big of relief as people think it does, and it can prolong the stress that people are feeling. With substances and anxiety feeding into each other, they could trigger a hard to escape destructive cycle, even after the holidays have passed. To help reduce the amount of stress you feel and the likelihood of resorting to dangerous coping skills, try removing yourself from situations that increase the tension. If getting together with individual family members makes you feel bad every year, consider some alternative ways to celebrate that may put you at ease. If you struggle with loneliness this time of year, utilizing your network is going to be critical. If you don’t have a network, look into text lines and hotlines for support during this season. You can download apps for therapy, apps for companionship or conversation, and utilize many services available to help you through tough times.
Alternative celebration methods
Many people are getting creative in spending time with their loved ones. Consider some alternative celebration methods for yourself to minimize some of the anxious feelings you may be having. Being in control of your surroundings and circumstances may help you navigate your emotions and any amounts of stress that may creep up. Schedule a Zoom, Duo, Google Meet, or FaceTime call with your family. Set a timer to take breaks while on the call, so it doesn’t get too intense; you can always return when you’re ready to. Celebrating from a distance has it’s advantages because it gives you a chance to be creative with your family and engage everyone in different ways. Technology has been a bridging staple this year for a lot of families and a lot of generations. (My grandma is constantly duo-ing me now that she knows how and I love it!) Come up with some check-in questions, games, or topics that can make distance celebrating work for you!
We are all adjusting to what this holiday season means for us. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and try to fill your days with as much joy as you can when you can.