3 Ways to Prepare Your Mental Health for the Holidays

3 Ways to Prepare Your Mental Health for the Holidays

Once you step aboard the holiday bus, there’s no getting off ’till the ball drops.

It’s that time of year again, when ghosts give way to turkeys and then immediately to holiday lights. Once you step aboard the holiday bus, there’s no getting off ’till the ball drops. Through one lens, it’s a beautiful time of year filled with celebrations to mark the passing seasons and time to connect with the people we love. Through another lens, the holidays are just plain stressful, as seasons speed past while we struggle to keep up with the responsibilities we feel to the people we love. How you see the holidays largely comes down to which lens you choose — and that, in turn, depends on your mental health. If you can stay strong, the holiday season can be the most wonderful time of the year; but if your mental health wavers, the holidays can feel like a crash landing on an alien planet.

Here are some ways to make sure you’re as ready as can be for the months of November and December:

  1. Take Care of Yourself

There’s a rule in emergency medicine to first ensure the safety of the rescuer. Generally, this keeps first responders able to continue responding instead of suddenly requiring rescue, themselves. During the holiday season, we are like first responders in that most of the things we do, we do for others. But you can only continue to do things for others if you are functional. To be able to cook that big meal for your extended family or attend the school holiday play or pick up your sister-in-law’s family from the airport, you need to take care of yourself, first. This looks different for different people, but may include (and is certainly not limited to) going to the gym, getting a massage, taking a walk and/or watching bad television with your dogs. Don’t feel guilty: You’re taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others.

2. Express Gratitude

During the holidays, it can seem like there are a million “have to’s” for every “get to.” (E.g., cooking, school plays and extended family.) But how lucky are we to have food to cook, schools capable of putting on a play, and people to whom we are connected? In addition to trying to keep in mind your feelings of gratitude, consider expressing gratitude this holiday season. Think of it like your advent calendar: Instead of opening a flap each day, try expressing your gratitude to a new person every day. Some of these people might be close friends or family; others might be the person who bags your groceries at the store or the person who delivers your Amazon package. Keep in mind that gratitude only works if it’s sincere.

3. Don’t Compare

Unless you are completely insane (in which case, stop reading this post and seek professional help), there will always be a house or apartment in your neighborhood or building with better holiday decorations than you. And Instagram turkey always looks better than the bird that comes out of your oven. If you compare yourself to the Clark Griswolds and Martha Stewarts of the world, you will come up short. Instead, make it about your own best effort. It’s like the old saying about sports competitions: It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Make the holidays about how you play the game. If you’re doing your best, that’s enough, even when it looks like others are doing it better.

Ah, the holidays. The most wonderful, energizing, stressful and debilitating time of the year! Stay strong, folks. Take care of yourself. And hold on tight for the New Year!