By Toni Brannagan
Sure, the holiday season might be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most *stressful* time of the year.
There’s nothing more isolating than feeling down when everyone around you seems excited and joyful, and what exemplifies that better than the holiday blues? First thing’s first: Remember that you’re not the only one who feels this way, and that prioritizing your mental health is valid and important (self-care, ftw!).
With all the added responsibilities (financial woes, family drama, battling TSA at the airport) piling up even faster than presents under the tree, it’s no surprise that according to a survey performed by Healthline, 62% of respondents claimed elevated stress levels during the holidays. Essentially, all those stressors raise alarm bells in your prefrontal cortex — the part of your brain responsible for many complex behaviors. Yup, your winter woes are backed by ~science~. This writer at Harvard even describes holiday blues as “an acute reaction to an immediate threat,” so think about that the next time you wonder if your third meltdown of December is dramatic.
If you know you’re prone to seasonal stress, or even depression—or if you’re still recovering from Thanksgiving—maybe it’s time to build a game plan.
I’ve put together some common triggers that come up around the holidays with suggestions for combating emotional strain. But no one knows what works for you better than *you*. Sometimes, just being mindful of a stressor before it shows up can help you face it.
put the eggnog down
Holiday parties and catching up with old friends usually translates to lots and lots of alcohol around… so drink responsibly, folks. At the very least, be aware of your limits, and when it’s time to switch to ginger ale.
Alcohol impacts the same areas of your brain that control mood, so stress or depression can be heightened with every boozy sip.
limit your spending
It’s a good idea to figure out how much money you can afford for gifts, travel, food, and other seasonal splurges as early as possible. Getting the logistics out of the way early will also leave you more time to enjoy yourself, without any nagging feelings about living beyond your means.
Overspending will only compound your feelings of stress with guilt, and sticking to your budget will help you start out the new year feeling financially responsible — always a plus, and something that’s usually on plenty of our resolution lists.
choose your battles
The holidays sometimes mean being trapped around a dinner table with people you’d rather avoid conversing with about your career, your haircut, impeachment proceedings, Louis C.K.’s comeback tour, or.... um, these are getting kinda specific, huh?
Anywayyy, as painful as it might be to sit out those convos when you certainly have *thoughts*, remember that fighting the good fight in a large group that is probably more than a few drinks in is about as useful as arguing with an egg on Twitter. If it’s someone you care about, table the conversation for a less stressful time… and let’s be real, don’t sacrifice your mental health to someone who doesn’t believe in climate change (I’m just writing myself advice right now, it’s fine, I’m totally fine).
make plans for the new year
If dreaming about all the Christmas trees and twinkle lights getting taken down is what you need to get through it — do you. Seriously, no matter what, the holiday season is going to end! I promise!
It might seem silly, but imagining yourself past this time can be grounding, as well as give you something to look forward to. Use this clarity to try and enjoy your time with family, or the break from work, as best you can... while remembering that January is right around the corner.
check-in with yourself
Being surrounded by people can be emotionally draining, so setting aside some time to rest, recharge, and practice personal acts of self-care can make a huge difference.
However, you should also be honest with yourself — sometimes all the mindfulness in the world just ain’t gonna cut it, and that’s okay! Don’t be ashamed to ask for help if you feel overwhelmed, whether that’s from a friend, family member, or a professional. And when it comes down to it, if you decide it would be best to opt out of a holiday gathering altogether, do what’s best for you.
Remember, even if you appear to be isolated, you’re not the only one who just isn’t feelin’ the holiday spirit. Sharing your thoughts aloud might not just help you but someone else in your life who is facing a similar struggle.
Do you have any no-fail methods for staying sane during the winter months? What stresses you out about the holidays? Share your self-care tips and stories with us in the comments!