Written by Lindsey Anuzis, MA, LCMHCA, NCC
We’ve wrapped up the month of November, a time that brings so many associations, cooler weather, the start of the holiday season, family time, and the concept of gratitude. Moving into the month of December, the holidays, and approaching the new year can be a complex time for those struggling with their mental health. Regardless of whether the holidays bring up feelings of happiness and cheerful nostalgia, or if they bring increased grief and depression, I want to encourage you to take some extra measures in supporting your mental health.
- Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is essentially an appreciation for the good things in life, no matter how big or small. Making the practice of gratitude a regular part of your day can increase self-esteem and build feelings of happiness among other things. Research shows that practicing gratitude has also been beneficial for improved relationships, improved sleep, and the reduction of stress, and symptoms related to depression! Try writing down 3 things you are grateful for each night before going to bed.
- Get Outside
This time of year, more than any, we begin to spend more time indoors, and possibly in front of screens (hallmark Christmas movies, anyone?!). However, getting outside and moving your body can have wonderful benefits for your mental health. Vitamin D, a supplement we gain from sunlight, is as important for your mental health, as it is for your physical health. A variety of studies have found that a deficiency in vitamin D can increase depressive symptoms among other mental health disorders. Additionally, getting fresh air into your lungs with some movement and exercise outdoors (as simple as a walk around the neighborhood) can also help in producing endorphins, which are chemicals created in our brains that help to fight off pain, and stress.
- Volunteer or Donate
Volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about can provide you with an increased sense of purpose and fulfillment. Studies have found that generosity and the concept of altruism can also improve your mood and perspective. What are some ways that you can get involved and give back with time, energy, or money?
- Set Boundaries
Piggybacking off the last tip, you can support your mental health by being more selective with where you choose to exert your time and energy. Do you notice that you dread going to ‘Aunt So and so’s house because debates over differing political views always seem to break out over dessert? Are you feeling anxious about whether some family member is going to pester you about why you’re not in a relationship, or why you haven’t started giving them grandkids? If so, change it up, and set boundaries on what kind of behaviors and conversations you are willing to engage in. If spending time with certain family members or engaging in certain traditions leave you feeling depleted as opposed to fulfilled, perhaps this is a good opportunity for you to practice setting boundaries. This could be with your time and even your money as it relates to gifts. Be mindful of how situations make you feel, and avoid engaging in things that will leave you feeling overwhelmed, and burnt out afterward.
- Ask for Help
There is no shame in the mental health game! The holidays can evoke a plethora of emotions. It can be a stressful time, it can be an exciting time, and it can even be both exciting and stressful. Asking for help from a loved one, or even a licensed mental health professional can go a long way when you begin to feel overwhelmed. What are some ways you can reduce your mental load this holiday season? Maybe you delegate tasks for shopping, maybe you set boundaries with how many people come over to celebrate? There is never a wrong time to ask for help, especially from those you care about, which leads to the next tip.
- Connect in Fulfilling Ways
While the holidays are typically spent with family members, who’s to say you can’t create your own traditions and have all of your favorite people join in the celebrations? Creating your own traditions can help reduce the pressure of expectations and can create fun new memories with your loved ones, which may even help you refocus on your values throughout the season.
- Spend Time Reflecting
The holiday season wraps up with the start of the new year. While many people use the new year as a fresh start and opportunity to work towards new goals, I want to encourage you to not only set realistic intentions for the new year but also reflect on the past year. Think about some things that went well, when was a time you felt proud of yourself? What about an event that brought positive emotions? What was really hard for you, and in those challenging times, what lessons did you learn? Reflection and processing can promote wonderful opportunities for clarity, and focus on what’s important, and what is ahead.