Practical tips to care for your mental health during the holidays

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Try saying the word “holidays” out loud and watch your body experience a wide range of emotions. There’s excitement, but there’s also anxiety. There’s nostalgia, but there’s also resentment. There’s a sense of ease and comfort, but there’s also worry. This is what makes it challenging to enjoy what’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

And while we need to experience the full spectrum of emotions in order to get the most out of life, there are ways to remain calm and steady amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays.

Here are some simple, yet practical tips to achieve just that:

Prevent the winter blues

The so-called ‘winter blues’ is a younger, more harmless, cousin of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and it manifests through low energy and a gloomy outlook on life.

As sunlight decreases during the short dark days of winter, many individuals struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Researchers from the National institute of Health (NIH) found the winter blues can be easily be avoided if people expose themselves to natural light and produce enough serotonin, aka ‘the happy chemical.’ So how do you produce serotonin?

Engage in outdoor winter activities as simple as building a snowman or taking a long walk in a nearby park while the sun is still up.

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Stimulate excitement by hashing out the details of a trip in a warm place even if it might not happen for a while. Take your self-care routine up a notch; make sure you get enough sleep, keep an eye on your sugar intake and fill up on raw fruits and vegetables.

A recent study found that consuming carrots, bananas, apples, citrus fruits, fresh berries, cucumbers, and dark leafy greens like spinach can greatly reduce depressive symptoms and increase a positive mood.

Don’t try to do it all

Juggling a busy work schedule, holiday shopping and food prepping can take a toll on both your mental and physical well-being. Luckily, you can still get things done during this particularly busy time of the year without reaching burnout. But it won’t happen unless you are willing to make some changes. First, draw clear work-home boundaries. Productivity expert Chris Bailey suggests disconnecting from the internet between the hours of 8pm and 8am.

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Jotting things down can also free up your mind. Marilyn McEntyre, professor of medical humanities at University of California, Berkeley, advises making lists that put you in a playful mood or that clarify your worries. Some of her favorite lists include ‘Things to let go of,’  ‘What I’ve noticed over the past year,’ or ‘Ways to spend a completely free afternoon.’

Another thing you can do to prevent burnout is single-tasking. Set aside 30 minutes to complete one single task even if it’s folding laundry.  Supporting your focus for a longer amount of time, studies show, is one of the most efficient ways to boost productivity and enhance well-being.

Talk to someone, be it a friend or a therapist

As if you needed more convincing, there’s mounting research showing that friends can make us happier and help us live longer too. “Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains,” said Robert J. Waldinger, an American psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. When you catch yourself going on a downward spiral of worry, call one of your most upbeat friends. Believe it or not, a ‘good mood’ is contagious.

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However, not all worries are equal and sometimes you need a therapist to help you sort things out.

Maybe you’ve recently gone through a breakup and the prospect of being single for the holidays is unbearable. Maybe you’ve recently been laid off. Or maybe you just need a better strategy for coping with the toxic family members you see every year at Christmas dinner. Finding and carving out time to meet with a therapist can only add more stress to your plate.

Here’s where online therapy comes in handy.

BetterHelp, for instance, allows you to chat with a counselor from the comfort of your home. An extensive study by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute found online therapy to be as effective as face-to-face counseling. Their services cost between $40 and $70 per week (billed monthly) and includes messaging, chats, phone, and video sessions.

All these strategies are meant to help you truly enjoy the holidays, stay in the moment and flex that “feel good’ muscle. Your sanity is precious!

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