10 Ways to Take Care of Your Emotional Health During the Holidays

Image: Snow Scene at Argenteuil by Claude Monet
Snow Scene at Argenteuil by Claude Monet

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s often the most stressful time of the year also. Even if you don’t suffer from clinical depression, you need to take care of your emotional health.

  1. Acknowledge any negative feelings.If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Set reasonable expectations regarding your capabilities and time constraints. Remember the spirit of the season. It’s not about whose house has the best decorations or who can buy the most. You, along with your family and friends, will have a more pleasant experience if you don’t overextend yourself.
  3. Reach out.If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  4. Be realistic.The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like the ones you had when you were a child. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or talking online.
  5. Learn to say no.Saying “yes” when you should say “no” can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed, and won’t do anyone any good, including the person who’s asking. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.
  6. Set aside differences with family and friends. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression too.
  7. Stick to a budget.Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Otherwise you’ll have a pretty crummy January when your credit card bills come, compounding the inevitable post-holiday letdown. Consider these alternatives for extended family gift-giving: Donate to a charity in someone’s name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange, where each person buys a present for one other person, not everyone.
  8. Plan ahead.Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  9. Schedule time alone. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time. Fifteen minutes of quiet time can be quite rejuvenating, particularly for parents or in households where there’s a lot of activity or out-of-town company. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk or find a quiet place to enjoy for a bit. The sounds of silence will be music to your ears.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it.Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.


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