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November 23, 2017
by Hilda Huj

Mental Wellness During the Holidays

November 23, 2017 18:49 by Hilda Huj  [About the Author]

The holiday season, the jolliest time of the year. Or, is it? There is no doubt that the holiday season brings a significant amount of joy into our lives. However, the holiday season can also have another, much darker, side.

The holiday season is a busy time of the year. There is so much to do, attend, and plan. Therefore, it is not unusual to start to feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious and/or depressed. Conversely, this is also a time of the year when many of us may become more aware of the void left by the loss we experienced, and our own personal loneliness. Therefore, in a way, the holiday season can act as a trigger to significant mental health struggles and, consequently, it can bring our mental wellness into serious question.

Tips & Tricks

So, if we are already aware of the struggles we might experience, what is the best way to approach them? Well, it seems that the key is in being prepared. And how to become prepared? Well, in order to prepare ourselves for a wide variety of experiences, it would be useful to review some of the most common strategies that people use in order to ensure that the holiday season is indeed the jolliest time of the year.

Budgeting Appropriately

During the holiday season, there are so many things we have to prepare for or do. For example, many of us will spend a significant amount of money on gifts and, consequently, experience significant financial distress. And, how can we avoid this distress? Well, the best we can do is sit down and think about our budget for this holiday season. By being prepared for the financial stress we might experience, and by being engaged in appropriate planning, we can avoid many negative effects of excessive spending. In addition, for some of us who already struggle financially, creative and meaningful gifts that don’t have a price tag can be a way to go. Alternatively, we can also talk with family and friends about a gift price limit to prevent the pressure of buying an expensive gift.

Maintaining Healthy Contact with Family

It seems that during the holiday season everything revolves around family values. However, for many of us, the biggest source of holiday negativity is our family - the family dinners, the obligations, and the burden of family traditions. In addition, it is not unusual that not everyone in the family gets along and oftentimes conflict may start even during the holiday family gatherings. Therefore, it is important to be realistic about what we can do with our family and set firm boundaries with our family members. Oftentimes, it is helpful to limit the duration of the family gathering. For example, rather than staying the whole day with our family it is perfectly fine to stay with them only for few hours and then dedicate the rest of our time to ourselves.

Avoiding Overindulgence

During the winter, our activity level is low. However, we are exposed to large quantities of tasty food and drinks. Overindulging in food in drinks can result in weight gain, as well as have serious long-term consequences on our health. Therefore, it is very important to be gentle with ourselves and limit our food and drink consumption to a healthy level, as well as find opportunities to be active.

Delegating Responsibilities

When it comes to taking on different holiday responsibilities, it is very important to have realistic expectations. Being over-committed and having unrealistic expectations will only attribute to feelings of anxiety and stress. Therefore, it is very important to take on only the responsibilities we are able to handle and delegate the other responsibilities. Also, a good idea is to prioritize certain responsibilities and, if needed, make a priority list. Knowing that the most important responsibilities have been completed will alleviate any anxiety and stress we could experience if we find ourselves not having enough time to complete everything we planned.

Addressing Loneliness and Isolation Appropriately

It is very difficult to be alone during the holiday season, given that everything around us points to the importance of closeness with family and friends. However, some of us will be alone during this holiday season. In order to address are loneliness and isolation, we can choose to engage in many activities offered through the holiday season. During the holiday season, there are many free activities that we can join, as well as volunteer positions where we can socialize with others and experience the holiday spirit. This can bring us closer to other people and alleviate the feelings of loneliness and isolations we might be experiencing. It is important to give others an opportunity to engage with us, and the best way to do that is to go out from our room and experience the holiday spirit on our own skin.

Overcoming the Feelings of Loss

The holiday season can often remind us of a loss we experienced. A significant someone who we used to spend the holiday season with, who is not with us anymore. The first step in overcoming these difficult feelings is the acknowledgment that nothing will be same without that person. However, it is also important to acknowledge that now we have an opportunity to create new traditions that will help keep the memory of the people we lost alive. Sometimes, that means having a decoration that will remind us on that person or even making a special tradition that will help us remember the person.

Being Aware of Seasonal Effects

The effects of seasonal changes on our mental health can be profound. Many changes accompany the shifting seasons: the length of daylight; the intensity of the sunlight; our diet; our routine; how and where we spend our time. And all these changes may have an effect on our well-being. As late fall turns to winter, it's common for people to feel tired, unmotivated, and depleted. Anxiety can increase, too, because these changes can create a vague, unsettled feeling. Also, symptoms of depression can begin or increase. It is important to be aware of these effects, in order to be able to address them appropriately. At times, only being aware of the effects will help us feel better. However, for some of us, that will not be enough and we will need to seek help from a mental health professional.

Reaching Out

It is not shameful to admit that we need help. We are all social beings and at times we will need social support in order to overcome certain struggles. Therefore, it is important to be comfortable to reach out to someone who can help. At times that might be a close family member or a close friend, and at times that might be a doctor or mental health professional.
In summary, there are many things we can do in order to make sure that we will enjoy this holiday season. Essential ingredients that can help us reach this goal are awareness and preparedness, as well as the ability to recognize when we need support.


About the Author

Hilda Huj Hilda Huj, B.A., M.A.

Hilda is a registered clinical counselling and forensic psychologist in Edmonton, Alberta. She specializes in working with youth, adults and families that have been impacted by trauma. She completed a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degree in Psychology in Osijek, Croatia, and subsequently equated her academic credentials to Canadian standards. Currently, she volunteers with the Edmonton Police Services as a Victim Support Worker and also helps to promote Psychology by volunteering for the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta.

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