Prioritizing Self-Care during the Holiday Season

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For some, the holidays can for some be a joyous time of the year, but for others, it can be a time laden with anxiety and stress. If you are someone that feels depressed or overwhelmed by the holiday season, first, know that you are not alone. It is quite common for this season to bring out uncomfortable feelings linked to any number of internal or external demands, like traveling, cooking meals, shopping, entertaining, socializing, etc. Not to mention, the last few holiday seasons have included an added layer of Covid stress that may still affect your ability to safely enjoy the holidays.

I am someone who has for a long time had a bittersweet relationship with “the-most-wonderful time-of-the-year.” For me, among other mini stressors, it’s brought on by the perceived pressure of mounting demands. The holidays are marketed as a time to put others first. As much as I love the sentiment, trying to live up to those high expectations can make us feel like we’ve failed if we don’t – and I have found it challenging to find a healthy balance. Years when I have unconsciously put my mental health on the back burner and everyone else’s needs before my own, I’ve Bah humbugged my way through the seasonal social engagements, suffering through shopping trips and finding persistent holiday music playing in every store to be too much. Isolating myself during this time only made things worse, as did feeling ashamed and defective for not being “in the spirit.” One thing I know well is that it can often feel pretty lonely if you are someone who has conflicting emotions about a time that society by and large deems to be blissfully cheerful.

Whether your stress is minor or major; having to do with complicated family dynamics, events, gift-giving anxiety, or linked to those no longer with us, here are some suggestions for managing holiday-related stress offered with one caveat – nothing is shared with an expectation that it is easy, but perhaps rather something you can try out to see if it helps minimize your stress and allows you to find more moments of enjoyment.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you’re experiencing a sense of sadness, grief, frustration, fatigue or any other less desirable emotion or feeling, recognizing that your emotions and feelings are valid and meeting them with acceptance and compassion may help to reduce their weight. Remember that it’s more than okay to take time to express your feelings; the good, the confusing, and the bad.

Seek Connection

We’ve learned in the last few years just how important connection can be for our mental health. If you are feeling isolated, reaching out to a loved one for support and companionship may be mentally nourishing. Seeking professional support in addition to personal can be a positive contribution to the management of your emotional needs.

Maintain Healthy Habits

Putting yourself first, especially during this season, can be a difficult task. However, saying yes to things you need and no to things you do not can help avoid resentment and feeling overwhelmed. If you have healthy, stress-relieving habits that you know help you to feel grounded and sorted, make an intention to keep them going throughout the season. Whether it’s a mindfulness ritual, physical activity, getting enough sleep, a creative outlet, managing your access to information to avoid overload, or simply a few minutes of alone time, make a point to continue engaging with these habits throughout the season to maintain your boundaries and restore your inner calm.

What’s most important is to not wait until you feel overwhelmed and instead learn to identify your holiday triggers and stressors so that you can begin to better manage them when they show up. I’m not saying that I don’t still have moments of feeling the holiday blues from time to time, but find that by implementing some of these techniques, recognizing what exactly brings me stress, and being intentional on a daily basis about my mental health, I’m better able to withstand the moments when I do feel overwhelmed, and engage in the holiday season with more presence and joy.

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Margot Greer

Margot worked at CCIH as a clinical intern at the Chicago Center for Integration and Healing for the 2022 – 2023 academic year.

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