The holiday season during this time of the year can bring moments of joy and celebration whether you are celebrating Christmas, Khushyali, Chanukah, Diwali, Yule, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, being alive, or anything else. However, it can also be a time of stress and grief where gatherings may be extra challenging due to the pandemic. Families may be dealing with divisive issues. We may feel pressure to participate in seemingly countless holiday traditions and events, especially if we have children. Everything just seems busier. How can we take care of our mental wellness during the holidays?

Don’t Try to Do Too Much

Keep your holiday to-do list short, realistic, and manageable. Do you really have the time and energy to make handmade gifts for all your friends and relatives? Does your schedule allow for shopping, baking, and every holiday party you’ve been invited to? Choose a reasonable number of activities – the ones that bring you the most joy – and let go of the rest. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a break for a few minutes to reset: breathe, stretch, or take a quick walk.

Take a Mindful Minute

At the top of each hour, take one minute to practice mindfulness. Notice your surroundings. What can you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Notice your breath, your emotions, and your body. Set an alarm on your phone to help you remember. Practicing mindfulness helps to relieve stress, improve sleep, and can even reduce chronic pain.

Get Enough Rest and Stay Hydrated

Sleep is vital to our mental wellness. The stress of the holidays can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Lack of sleep, in turn, can make us irritable, unable to focus, and feel like Scrooge. Good sleep hygiene, such as avoiding caffeine and phone use too close to bedtime, can help break the cycle. If the running to-do list in your brain keeps you up at night, try meditation or progressive muscle relaxation to help you relax.

Water is important not only for our physical well-being but also for our mental health. Even mild dehydration can cause levels of the stress hormone cortisol to rise in the body. Stay hydrated to combat stress and anxiety.

Set Healthy Boundaries

Establish and hold healthy boundaries with family, friends, and at work. Be honest with yourself and others about how much you can take on. Often we agree to the requests of others because we do not want to disappoint them, but this can lead to burnout and resentment. Remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup and that it is OK to say “no” without further justification. Practice saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not available,” or “I love you very much, and I need fifteen minutes to myself right now.”

Spend Time in Nature

Studies show that just 15 minutes of walking in a natural setting improves focus and increases positive emotions. Even watching videos or looking at images of nature has a positive effect on our well-being. If you live somewhere where it gets very cold or the weather is bad during the winter, you may have a tendency to stay indoors more often. Do your best to get outside daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

Reach Out and Connect

Make the effort to reach out and connect with friends, family, or groups that can support you. Feelings of trust and safety lower our stress levels. The simple act of reaching out to someone has the added benefit of letting that person know you value and appreciate them.

Accept Your Feelings

During the holidays, we might feel overwhelmed at all there is to do or frustrated that things aren’t going as planned. We might have painful memories associated with this time of year, or we might be feeling sad that someone we loved is no longer with us to celebrate. These feelings are uncomfortable, but if we can practice radical acceptance of our feelings without trying to change them, we can reduce our suffering and stress. Sometimes we might compare our struggles to others and feel we have no right to be unhappy because others have it worse. Have compassion for yourself and what you are going through.

Savor the Moment

The holidays can feel like a whirlwind. Before we know it, it’s all over and we hardly got a chance to appreciate it while it was happening. Take the opportunity to look for positive experiences throughout your day, and focus on sensations and small details to stay present in the moment, and lock those positive experiences into your memory.

We can’t control everything that happens during the holidays, but we can practice mindfulness, self-compassion, and letting go to protect our mental wellness and reduce our holiday stress. Remember that it is ok to be imperfect and simply a compassionate mess.

Photo by Alisa Anton