Holiday Tips: Manage Your Stress and Feel More JoyMental Health
Health experts agree that celebrating virtually or with the people you live with is the safest choice this holiday season.
For some, being away from family and friends during the holidays can be hard. But health experts say the difficult decision to stay apart this holiday may mean you and your loved ones can spend many more years together.
You should do what's best for you and your loved ones this holiday season, advises Dr. Eric Raab, a psychiatrist with Lee Physician Group. And if you decide to stay home out of an abundance of caution and safety, don’t feel bad about it.
“When you talk with your family and friends about holiday plans, it's okay if you decide to stay home and remain apart from others,” Dr. Raab says. “Remember, the first step in managing stress is taking care of yourself and overall well-being and keeping the people who live with you safe.”
This holiday season will especially challenge our emotional well-being, according to Dr. Raab.
“The pandemic and the recent election already have us on edge. And for some us, the arrival of the holidays can trigger some profound feelings. They might remind us of a deceased partner, family member or someone they can’t be with during a time meant for togetherness.”
Dr. Raab, who works extensively with military veterans and older adults, says many of his clients have had to cancel plans to visit with their families because of the pandemic.
“Or, when they did manage to see them, their grandkids weren’t able to hug them for the same reason. It was emotional for them. We’re social animals and we thrive when we physically interact with others. When we’re unable to do that, that can cause us stress.”
If you’re coping with the loss of a loved one, Dr. Raab says it’s important to honor your feelings by recognizing and feeling them.
“When you have memories and emotions about loved ones you’ve lost or are missing, try to recognize those feelings and give yourself the space to feel them,” Dr. Raab says. “You might share a story about your loved one with others to carry forward some happy memories of them. You can create a new holiday story.”
Families should communicate clearly and well in advance of any holiday gathering, according to Dr. Raab.
“Talk with your immediate family about their expectations and what they need to do or have to feel safe when gathering,” he says. “Ideally, to keep you and your family safe, consider limiting in-person holiday celebrations to the people living in your immediate household.”
Should you decide to host family members from other households, Dr. Raab suggests you follow the CDC’s tips for holiday gatherings, which can be accessed here.
Define your boundaries
One of the most powerful ways to take care of yourself is setting personal boundaries.
“If there’s ever been a time to prioritize your own mental health, it’s now,” Dr. Raab says. “The holidays are particularly challenging because many people are attached to their traditions and beliefs. We might have different political views, lifestyles, or religious beliefs. You can let family members know you won’t participate in discussing ‘trigger topics’ that cause you stress. Setting boundaries can do that.”
For example, if someone has strong opinions about a topic that conflicts with your own viewpoint, you may wish to let the person know you won’t engage in a discussion to avoid your own emotional upset or stress. “Keeping the peace is a good strategy. After all, the holiday season is about cultivating peace,” Dr. Raab notes.
Have a plan for handling stressful moments
When a stressful moment arises, try to have a planned response to it.
“We’re usually familiar with the situations that typically cause us stress,” Dr. Raab says. “For example, maybe it’s right after everyone’s finished eating. You’d like some help with the clean-up but it seems everyone’s retreating to the living room to watch television. Determine how you’ll handle asking for help, in advance. A lot of times what we really need is to set holiday boundaries with ourselves. We should empower ourselves with the right to ask to have our needs met.”
Do something nice for someone else
Stoke your self-esteem by doing something nice for someone else. Maybe create a care package for a family or neighbor and deliver it to them in a way that doesn’t involve contact.
“Focusing on the needs of others takes the focus off of our disappointment that we can’t be with our entire family because of COVID-19,” Dr. Raab says. “When we’re busy thinking of others, we have less time to think about our own woes.”
Research shows that thinking about the things for which you’re grateful improves your quality of life.
“Reflect on the good things that have happened in your life,” Dr. Raab suggests. “These can be big or little things. It can be as simple as enjoying a hot mug of coffee or maybe you feel grateful that your family has stayed healthy throughout the pandemic. Positive emotions can help us cope with stress and improve our mental and physical health.”
When to contact a professional
There are certain times when the help of a mental health professional can help. “If you’re feeling constantly on edge or like you just can’t seem to shake a mood, then consider getting connected with resources you may need to help you feel better,” Dr. Raab says.
“This is especially true if you’re having thoughts about harming yourself. Whatever you’re going through, know that you’re not alone.”