For many people, the holiday season is their favorite time of year, but for others, it brings unwelcome guests – stress and depression. Women are often expected to ensure holiday plans, gifts, meals, and other aspects are taken care of, but this added stress opens the door for mental health concerns to surface. Research has found that women are more likely to experience depression than men (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Hasin et al., 2018).
For most of us and particularly those struggling through the holiday season, it will be essential to practice self-care. Self-care is defined as providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological wellness (Beauchamp & Childress, 2001). Self-care can be many things, and it all depends on the individual. Remember that self-care is not always the answer for everyone’s mental health concerns, but it does play a role in managing them.
Here are some tips and best practices for a less stressful holiday season:
- Respect your budget.
Figure out what your budget will allow you to spend this holiday season for gifts, decorations, baking, etc., and only spend that amount. It may feel uncomfortable and like you should be making this the “best holiday ever!!” for all of the people you care about, but it really isn’t about the gifts (even though that sounds corny). Setting some financial boundaries can feel overwhelming, but start small and be consistent.
- Get some exercise.
Physical activity reduces stress, improves mood and concentration, and combats depression (aan het Rot, Collins, & Fitterling, 2009). Exercise triggers hormones like serotonin and dopamine to be released (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Walk around the block with a friend or family member, try a new exercise class or workout video at home.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Chronic sleeplessness and poor sleep can negatively affect your physical and mental health. It can lead to weight gain, additional stress, and irritability. Here’s some easy ways to make your sleep better: skip the naps, no caffeine after 2 PM, and stay away from food at least 3 hours before bedtime. (Schaeffer, 2015)
- Do something that gives you life.
Write in a journal, read a book, call a friend who makes you laugh, make a new playlist, or any other activity that makes you feel recharged. This feeling can leave you feeling inspired and ready for holiday cheer!
- Take time to be grateful.
Using mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and deep thought to open yourself to self awareness can be key to living in the moment during the stressful holiday season. Get a journal or even just a piece of notebook paper and write down some things that you are grateful for in that moment. It could be anything! There are also some templates to help you think through these things on the internet. (https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/gratitude-journal/). Make this a daily habit, it goes a long way to reducing stress!
I hope that you can take time to use these self-care tips during the holiday season to keep from experiencing the stressful moments that are often accompanied by family and friends gathering. Radical self-care can seem selfish, but the reality is it allows us to be better for those around us. A few minutes a day can make all the difference in our family and friend relationships, put on your own oxygen mask first. Most of all, be kind to yourself, you deserve it!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5. Arlington, VA: Author.
Beauchamp, T. L., & Childress, J. F. (2001). Principles of biomedical ethics (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Hasin, D. S., Sarvet, A. L., Meyers, J. L., Saha, D., Ruan, W. J., & Grant, B. F. (2018). Epidemiology of adults DSM-5 major depressive disorder and its specifiers in the united states. JAMA Psychiatry, 75(4), 336-346. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.4602
Mayo Clinic. (2018). Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469
Schaeffer, C. (2015). Psychology today: 6 tips for holiday self care. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/women-s-mental-health-matters/201512/6-tips-holiday-self-care
aan het Rot, M., Collins, K. A., & Fitterling, H. L. (2009). Physical exercise and depression.The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, New York, 76(2), 204-214. doi:10.1002/msj.20094