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Maintaining your Mental Health during the Holidays

Rebecca L. Burnheimer, Ph.D.

Licensed Psychologist

The 2020 holiday season is in full swing! For many of us, this is a very special time of year filled with gratitude and joy, giving to others, celebrating, and making memories with loved ones. Along with these positive experiences, however, the holidays can bring on additional stress, pressure, and feelings of grief. This year is likely to be even more stressful than usual, considering the balancing act that many of us are facing – staying safe and healthy versus spending time with friends and family in the midst of a pandemic.

Below are some tips that may help you to navigate this most wonderful time of the year in 2020:

  1. Don’t lose sight of the meaning of the holidays.

When you’re running from store to store or shopping online and spending more than you can afford in order to find the perfect gifts, take a breath and remember the meaning of the holidays. Consider embracing the holiday spirit and channeling your time and efforts into making a true difference for someone this season. This does not have to be expensive – think about how you could volunteer your time, donate household items to shelters, or collectively sponsor a child or family in need in the community.

2. Take time out to care for yourself.

If you are feeling stressed, it’s crucial to devote some of your precious time to yourself. This might be a foreign concept to some of us, especially during the holiday season – when are you supposed to find time for this, too? Try not to get caught up in thinking that you need an hour or an entire afternoon to spend on yourself. You can easily fit self-care into every day. Even the 10 or 15 minutes you spend in the shower or on the drive to work can be a time for mindfulness, deep breathing, or a gratitude exercise, such as challenging yourself to think about five things for which you are grateful in that moment.

3. Honor those who are no longer with us.

If you find yourself missing loved ones who have passed on, choose a holiday activity to complete in their honor. Think about their character, one of their favorite traditions or hobbies, or identify a cause about which they felt passionate. Gather your family or independently continue that tradition or hobby, engage in an activity that reminds you of them, or donate to their favorite cause in their name. If you are with others, share happy memories about your loved one and discuss how they would feel knowing that you were doing this in their remembrance. If you are doing this independently, reflect on the good times that you had with your loved one and the ways in which they positively influenced your life.

4. Maintain your physical health.

The holiday season can be a time of indulgence – candies, holiday cookies, watching movies, and staying warm by the fire. While a little indulgence is fine, it’s important not to lose track of your physical fitness during the holidays. Taking care of your physical self is a major factor in maintaining and improving your mental health. Regular exercise and a healthy diet help to keep a clear mind, improve your mood, and multiply your energy. Remind yourself that the benefits are well worth the time and effort. Imagine the accomplishment you might feel after going out and taking a walk or cooking a healthful meal for your family.

5. Consider alternative means to spending time together.

Challenge yourself to turn your in-person holiday traditions into technology-friendly activities. If you traditionally host a holiday meal, cook as you normally would and then package food to drop off (contactless) at your family and friends’ homes. Then, organize video call so you can still enjoy the meal “together.” You can do the same with gift-giving – organize a video call after dropping off gifts (contactless) so that you can still see the reactions of others as they open them. If you do not have the capabilities of video-calling, consider sharing these same experiences on a phone call and taking lots of pictures to be shared at a later date. Play your favorite holiday songs on the call, and share memories and well-wishes for the year ahead.

I hope that these tips help to keep you mentally healthy during the holiday season in 2020!

If you find yourself in need of urgent mental health assistance, please contact the WV DHHR’s 24 hour crisis hotline at 1-844-HELP-4-WV or go to the nearest emergency department for help.

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