6 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the Holidays

In a perfect world, the holiday season would always be like the lyrics of old-timey Christmas songs. We’d spend those last several weeks of the year “nice and rosy and comfy cozy” with friends and loved ones, enjoying peace on earth and goodwill toward others. But for some of us, the supposed most wonderful time of the year…isn’t. Stressors like family drama, finances, and unhealthy work-life balance have a way of turning the season of merry and bright into a mental health blight. In fact, many people find themselves most prone to depression and anxiety during the holidays. Recognizing this tendency is an opportunity to be proactive this year.

Here are six ways to take charge of your mental health during the holidays.

1. Just say no.

A pricey gift exchange with co-workers. Your kooky aunt’s annual ugly sweater party. A cookie exchange that requires six dozen fancy treats. What do they all have in common? You don’t actually want to do them, and they stress you out. Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if I said no?” If friends and relatives give you a hard time, honesty is the best policy. Let them know you’re taking some time for yourself to reduce stress. You may be amazed at the freedom and peace that come from opting out.

2. Make time for self-care.

As your calendar fills with events and obligations, how about giving your mental health a boost by intentionally scheduling activities that recharge your spirit? Whether it’s getting a massage, spending time in prayer or practicing meditation, or simply getting enough sleep each night, tending to your own spirit is a powerful antidote for seasonal stress. Think of it as health food for your soul: worth it, even if it means sitting out an annual tradition or two.

3. Don’t neglect exercise.

Study after study has shown that consistent aerobic exercise reduces anxiety and depression. Even though the weather outside might not be beckoning you to get active in the great outdoors, finding a way to get your heart rate up a few times a week is a surefire way to combat the holiday blues. Try checking out a new YouTube workout channel or starting a nightly mini-dance party to some upbeat Christmas music (like “A Pentatonix Christmas”). You’ll also find that exercise counterbalances some of that extra holiday indulgence!

4. Eat mindfully.

Similarly, watching what we eat during the holidays can go a long way toward helping us feel good, both physically and mentally. When you eat (and drink) in moderation, you prevent post-indulgence feelings of shame and regret that can compound an already fragile mental health state. Before a social event, try jotting down intentions, such as “I will only have one drink” or “I do not have to try everything on the buffet.” Research has proven that people who write down goals—even small ones—are far more likely to achieve them.

5. Take a break from social media.

Feeling down around the holidays can be exacerbated by comparing our own situation to that of others. Nowhere is this easier than on social media. When friends’ posts look like a commercial for How to Have the Perfect Christmas, it’s only natural to wonder why your own life can’t be so glittery bright. Taking a holiday break from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms (or at least reducing your daily habit) might be the breather your spirit needs from the toxic trap of comparison.

6. Give and serve.

Serving the less fortunate has a wonderful way of bringing perspective. And it’s not just warm fuzzies—it’s science! Numerous studies have shown the positive effects helping others has on our mental health. Taking time out from our own stressors to serve grounds us enough to (hopefully) remember the many blessings in our own lives. Around the holidays, service opportunities abound. Think outside the soup kitchen box by going caroling at a nursing home or sending a care package to a soldier abroad.

Wishing you a peaceful, healthy holiday season!