Prioritizing Mental Wellness During the Holidays

Heather Golubski
RD, Stronger U Coach

The holiday blues are a very real experience. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 61% of all people experience some stress during the holiday season with 38% of people feeling increased stress over other times of the year, and holiday stress tends to impact women more than men. Many report their negative emotions being related to the commercialization of the holiday, financial concerns, and worries about getting enough time off work to spend with loved ones while also being able to accomplish all of their work responsibilities. All of this coincides with less daylight, only making these negative feelings worse! 

You are not alone! Many Stronger U coaches will agree that many members note extra stress during the holiday season, and extra stress can present many issues as it pertains to our nutritional goals. You probably already know them, but more stress means more stress eating. But it also means that you might stop getting your daily movement in, stop tracking your food, or stop messaging your coach. All of your hard work habit building throughout the year might become undone under the heavy load of the holiday season.

Fear not; experiencing the holiday blues isn’t inevitable. Proper self-care techniques can help reduce the amount of stress we experience. Try some of the following tips to prioritize your mental health during the holiday season! 

Set Boundaries

Holiday events can sometimes feel more involved than parties during the rest of the year. Think about it: a holiday party might require a hostess gift, a gag gift (like a White Elephant), a nicer outfit, etc. If you are invited to even three additional parties during the season, these things will add up and add to your plate. The solution is this: Say NO to the events that you don’t want to host or attend. Be clear about your needs! There will always be more opportunities to host a social event (or attend one). Consider how you want to use your time and if a social engagement is adding value to your holiday season. If it’s not, consider RSVP’ing no.  

Avoid Energy Vampires!

We all have those frenemies, family members, and coworkers that suck the energy from us. Don’t feel obligated to hang out with those people and instead, spend your time with people who build you up and give you energy instead!

Reimagine Gift Giving

Sick of piles of stuff that the kids forget about in 2 weeks? Or spending money on other people out of obligation? Try talking to your friends and family about gifting experiences instead of things, doing a fun “white elephant” gift exchange with a low price limit, or have the group adopt a family in need instead!

Ask for Help! 

Are you feeling overburdened with the excess of things you have to accomplish during this season? Everyone can and should contribute. While women tend to experience more stress during the holidays because we’re the ones who volunteer/get voluntold to cook and clean for the meals, as well as do the holiday shopping, use this season as an opportunity to practice your self-advocacy skills. Delegate! When your friends ask if they can bring anything to your event, say “yes!”.

And guys, if this is you, do the same! 

Reduce/Eliminate Alcohol Intake

Here at Stronger U, we are clear on our feelings about drinking, and while not all drinking is bad, it’s important to remember that alcohol is a depressant, and can increase feelings of depression or anxiety. While it feels like an escape in the moment, alcohol intake often increases negative emotions over time. 

In addition, drinking alcohol can impact our nutritional goals. Consider your “why” behind drinking. If you have planned your beverages and are able to enjoy them, do it! But, if you’re feeling like you have to have a drink in your hand to placate friends, make it through an event, or because you’re feeling overwhelmed, consider how a sparkling water might better fit your needs.

Routine Physical Activity

Move your body in ways that bring you joy! As the weather gets cooler, find new and unexpected ways to move your body that will help get your heart rate up and energize you! Get family involved if you would like, or use exercise as a welcome opportunity to get some alone time.

Get Sunlight and Fresh Air!

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Not only is sunlight and fresh air good for our mental health, but it’s also a great way to get some distance from annoying or overbearing family members! 

Supplement with Vitamin D

Less sunlight means less natural Vitamin D synthesis, and Vit D deficiency can lead to schizophrenia, depression, and seasonal affective disorder. Choose foods high in Vit D like salmon, tuna, egg yolks, and fortified foods, or supplement with Vit D3 (cholecalciferol).

Meditate/Journal

Carve out some time during your day to reflect. There are many ways to begin journalling, whether you pick up a new notebook, a journal prompt book, or even a note on your phone. Use the time to explore your mood, positive and negative parts of your day, and more. If new to meditating, try a guided meditation app like headspace or insight timer. 

Plan Ahead

During the holidays, it’s easy to feel like a lot of things are out of your control. What people are serving at parties, what time eating will happen, etc. Think about the things that you can control and plan ahead accordingly. Planning ahead can help us feel prepared for any situation that comes our way, so we aren’t surprised and left scrambling at the last minute. We can easily feel overwhelmed if we are left without a plan!

Identify and Address Triggers of Stress

What causes me stress might be entirely different than what’s causing your stress, and thus, the way we address those might be entirely different. Work backwards to find out what your triggers are and try to address those directly! 

Don’t Fall into the “Happiness Trap”

Putting additional pressure on ourselves to feel happy all the time is not only not helpful, but may INCREASE stress and other negative emotions! We don’t have to let our emotions rule our thoughts and our actions, but we can acknowledge and accept how we’re feeling at any given moment. 

Travel

Hate the cold? Stressed by your family? If your finances and time allow it, go somewhere else for the holidays! Treat yourself with a resort trip or disconnect entirely on a remote backpacking adventure. 

Seek Professional Help

Necessary caveat: these tips are not meant to address diagnosed mental health conditions. If you are struggling with ongoing mental health concerns, please reach out to a mental health professional; no amount of exercise or dietary changes will address those concerns. If you feel you are at risk of self-harm, reach out to the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

 

The holidays can be filled with joy, love, laughter, and quality time with those we care about. However, they can also be filled with anxiety, sadness, discomfort, apathy, and a whole slew of other negative emotions. These mental health battles can be present whether you’re the extroverted party host surrounded by people, or spending the holidays solo. Nobody is immune! As you head into the holiday season, consider how your mental wellness will help you navigate social situations, stress, and yes, your nutrition. Remember, you can always use your Stronger U coach as your sounding board and support as your navigate this season!

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