10 Tips for a Mentally Healthy Holiday Season
Do the holidays (or certain people or traditions) have you feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed? Here are 10 tips for a mentally healthy holiday season to help you make it through with love and boundaries instead of stress, depression, and anxiety.
The holidays are supposed to be fun. A time of thanksgiving and togetherness. The time of year everyone looks forward to with anticipation and excitement.
But, for many, they can be the very opposite. For many, the holiday season can be a trigger for painful memories, family drama, stress, and financial difficulty.
- Though the majority of people reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits during the holidays, these feelings were accompanied by fatigue, stress, irritability, and sadness.
- 38% of people reported an increase in stress during the holidays. The top stressors? Lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.
So yes, mental health struggles during the holidays are real — regardless of your religious affiliation or family relationships.
10 Tips for a Mentally Healthy Holiday Season
Before I share these 10 practical tips for a mentally healthy holiday season, please know that we have had our own stressful holidays to deal with.
We know first-hand what it’s like to have to sit across the table from someone who can’t ever seem to say anything nice or someone who brings their own drama and baggage to every get-together.
It’s because of my own mental health challenges that I’ve had to put the very tips I’m sharing into practice.
Has it been easy?
Yes and no.
Perhaps the biggest lesson is learning that I don’t have the ability to change others; I can only choose for myself.
And the truth is, we all have a choice. All of us.
We can choose to subject ourselves to dramatic and traumatic family dynamics year after year, or we can set healthy boundaries and say, “Enough is enough. I don’t have to put up with this any longer.”
So please know, these mental health tips are coming straight from someone who has experienced mentally and emotionally unhealthy holidays. And, I’ve learned to set firm boundaries so that my mental and emotional health don’t go downhill during this potentially difficult time of year.
Here are my 10 tips for a mentally healthy holiday season. If you have other tips to add that have helped you keep your mental health intact during the holidays, please share them in the comments!
#1 — Keep it simple.
The holiday food obsession is an illusion.
You don’t need turkey AND ham, 284 side dishes, and 68 pies. (Scratch that. You DO need 68 pies.)
I’ll even let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to cook turkey or ham if you don’t want to (or don’t know how).
Not everything on your table has to be homemade.
And, you don’t have to decorate your whole house.
Boy, I just let you off the hook big-time! 🙂
The holidays, at their heart, are really about gratitude. Not food or presents or decorations.
If you choose to make this season about gratitude and not the food or whether your bathroom has seasonal hand towels, you’ll be less stressed, you’ll digest your food better, and a burned pie crust or soggy stuffing won’t ruin your day.
If traditional food, homemade everything, tons of presents, and decorating your house from top to bottom truly feed your soul and don’t stress you out at all, then make it look like Hobby Lobby exploded in your house! Go for it, embrace it!
But, if those things don’t feed your soul — if you do them from a place of obligation or expectation — then let them go.
The simpler you can keep things, the more you can focus on gratitude, connecting with loved ones, and even self care.
Some non-fussy recipes to try?
- drink: Real Food Copycat Starbuck’s Caramel Apple Spice
- side dish: Instant Pot Cauli-tatoes
- appetizer: 2-Minute Everything Seasoning Cream Cheese Dip served with fresh veggies and crackers
- appetizer: Instant Pot Dairy-Free “Queso” served with your favorite chips
- main dish + side: Instant Pot Salmon & Veggies
- main dish: Instant Pot Green Chile Chicken Chowder
- dessert: Instant Pot Gluten-Free Sourdough Apple Cider Bread Pudding
- dessert: Keto Swedish Cream
#2 — Don’t obsess over tradition.
A holiday is a holiday when you decide it’s a holiday, not because you have the same traditions every year.
Some families eat the same foods or draw names for gifts year after year. If you love that sort of thing, then go for it.
Yet, plenty of people endure traditions rather than enjoy them.
I tried keeping traditions with my family, and I’m just not good at it. We’ve had sushi for Thanksgiving and enchiladas for Christmas. When we moved to Minnesota and away from our Texas families, it was easy to give up the pressure of gift-giving.
Confession: I’ve never cooked a turkey in my life and don’t intend to.
Some fun, non-traditional holiday foods you might love:
- Shrimp & Greens Enchiladas with Jalapeno “Cream” Sauce (dairy-free, grain-free option)
- Perfectly Steamed Instant Pot Crab Legs
- Keto Cranberry Curd Tart
- Matcha-Moringa White Hot Chocolate
- Keto Cranberry Lemon Spritzer
- 3-Ingredient Air Fryer Butternut Squash
- Butternut Squash Curly Fries
- Everything Seasoning Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- Grain-Free Pumpkin Spice Cake
One very simple tradition we’ve kept with our kids is new pajamas with hot chocolate and a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve. This is one I actually look forward to.
There are a slew of Christmas movies on Netflix, hot chocolate is easy, and I can order pajamas online! It’s not expensive, stressful, or fussy. That’s MY kind of tradition.
Maybe you want to start some new traditions that are unique to your family and don’t carry the weight of trauma or obligation. What about a Thanksgiving breakfast instead of lunch or dinner?
Hate Black Friday? Try having your Thanksgiving meal on Friday instead of Thursday?
Instead of staying in with extended family who may trigger you, why not serve Christmas dinner at a local homeless shelter or food pantry?
The bottom line is: don’t be a slave to tradition.
Let your traditions serve you, not the other way around. If a particular tradition is old and tired, give yourself permission to start a new one.
And if keeping traditions stresses you out, per #1, it’s ok to let them go.
#3 — Accept that you (or someone else) will forget something.
You will forget something.
Accept and make peace with it now.
It’ll be an ingredient or a person’s dietary preference or something else, but you will forget something. Or someone will forget the side dish you told them to bring.
And it’s going to be OK.
Smile, apologize if necessary, and move on. It’s not like you’re going to be able to go to the store and grab your forgotten item anyway. Nor should you have to.
#4 — Religion and politics don’t have a place at the holiday table.
Ever. Full stop.
Pretty sure there’s no reason to elaborate on this, but if I may…
My husband comes from an extremely religious family. When certain family members are together, the discussion at the table turns into something akin to a presidential debate.
On any given subject, these family members would have their guns out, debating with the others the merits of their position, and including verses of the Bible to support their views as the “right” ones.
I’ve even had things like my nose ring or the clothing I was wearing criticized with scripture at the holiday table.
Friends, the holidays are not the time nor the place. In fact, I would say that religious or political debates don’t really serve a purpose at all.
Religion and politics are polarizing. No one is ever “in the middle”, but rather always on opposite sides. Someone always gets hurt.
If the holidays are about togetherness and gratitude, how can that be the focus if religion and politics are on the table?
#5 — Have an exit plan.
If crowds of people, your family, the stress of cooking, or anything else overwhelm you, make sure you give yourself space to retreat.
Go outside, go to a back room and close the door, go sit on the toilet.
Have a plan to exit, ground yourself, and breathe if/when the drama/stress kick in.
Go one step further by downloading the Calm App to your phone. This app has so many 10-minute guided meditations to help you calm down, ground yourself, and focus on your breath. I use it daily!
#6 — Drink plenty of water.
The holidays aren’t just known for the food; they’re notorious for a variety of drinks.
Ranging from cocktails to sweet hot chocolate to spiced cider and wassail, it’s easy to drink your calories and forget about drinking actual water.
Then you feel irritable in the afternoon or evening because all that sugar has caused your blood sugar to do wonky things. Or, worse, you wake up with a hangover. 🙁
You’ll feel much better during and after the festivities if you stick to one, maybe 2, holiday drinks and consume plenty of water the rest of the time.
Add a little extra to your water (and calm to your central nervous system) with some magnesium citrate! (<– Save 10% on my favorite mag with my discount code ALLTHETHINGS)
#7 — Use a Happy Light.
I’ve often found it ironic that “the most wonderful time of the year” happens to be during the darkest time of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere).
A simple lack of sunlight can be extremely hard on one’s mental health.
It’s helpful to use a Happy Light daily from October through March, especially if you live in a far northern region.
In fact, according to my own psychiatrist/psychologist (yes, he’s double board-certified), it’s fine to leave your happy light on all day, every day. Just be sure it’s off 3 hours before you plan to go to bed.
#8 — Holidays Can = Trauma
For you. For someone else. Hold space for that.
Not everyone loves the holidays — and you have permission to feel that way. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the holidays in general can hold a lot of pain and trauma for many people.
Holidays can bring up feelings of loss, grief, isolation, family drama, and more.
It’s not all fun and games for everyone — and it’s ok for you or them to feel that way. Holidays mean lots of different things for everyone; we need to be sensitive to that.
It doesn’t mean their grief or sadness has to pull us down, too. Yet, oftentimes, these feelings get pushed aside when what that person really needs is love, compassion, and empathy.
If the holidays bring up these feelings for you, it’s a good idea to set some boundaries beforehand.
For example, if a painful topic of conversation is brought up and you don’t want to talk about it, politely excuse yourself or request to change the subject.
#9 — Don’t talk about your special diet at the table.
I’ve been “that person” before, and let me tell ya, it’s, uhhhhh, slightly awkward. (I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving our family chose to do the GAPS Diet! Bless my mother-in-law for doing her best to accommodate us!)
No one wants to hear about keto when they’re sitting across from you with a plate-full of carbs, ya know?
If you are committed to your special diet during the holidays, that’s great for you! Go get ’em!
However, you don’t have to proclaim it from the rooftops as this only serves to build your own ego while causing others to feel inadequate, guilty, or annoyed.
#10 — Obligation is a terrible motivator.
You are not obligated to talk to anyone, sit next to anyone, visit anyone, eat something you don’t want, or anything else.
We all have “that” friend or family member who just rubs us the wrong way. We try to be kind and invite them to join us, but this often comes from a place of obligation.
Our inner voices tell us things like “You should invite them” or “You should make this dish because it’s tradition“.
“Should” is a terrible motivator. If anything motivates you, let it be love for yourself and others — and you will always be true to YOU.
More Posts About Mental Health…
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- I’m Super Crunchy, But I Take Anti-Anxiety Medication Anyway (here’s why)
- When Physical Health Problems Turn Into Mental Health Problems (& how I got help before it was too late)
- 5 Things That *Really* Helped My Anxiety
- 11 Years of Postpartum Depression & How I Found My Way Back
- 15 Ways to Practice Self Care