Mental Health Management During the Holidays
Written By: Sara Monks, Office Associate
Forecasts call for chilly weather, morning frost settles on windows and winter-themed beverages are back (one large peppermint hot cocoa with extra marshmallows for me, please!). That can only mean one thing: the holidays are QUICKLY approaching and you haven’t finished making preparations yet. I’m not talking about preparations for festive meals, researching the best holiday deals or making travel arrangements. Have you prepared best practices for managing your mental health during the most stressful time of the year? A study showed that “64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse” (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2014). Here are some tips and tricks for this holiday season to alleviate some of the mental strain and remind you that it is a wonderful life.
Avoid stressors before they arise
Does the thought alone of fighting over a television marked 75% off with hundreds of strangers give you a migraine? Consider alternatives like Cyber Monday online deals and shopping locally. See our blog “25 Local Small Businesses to Support this Season” for some inspiration!
Do your loved ones always fight over gift giving every year? Suggest using a website like DrawNames.com to generate a gift exchange name draw, that way everyone is only responsible for giving ONE gift. Websites like Draw Names can be customized with set budgets and personalized wish lists as recommendations to the gift giver within that set budget! (The key here is being honest with your loved ones about your realistic budget and being open and understanding when they do the same).
No matter the stressor, open and clear communication is often going to help avoid some of the major conflicts and anxiety that arises. Which very clearly correlates to our next tip:
Learn to say no and set boundaries
This year you planned ahead and booked travel arrangements for the holidays two months in advance. At the last minute one of the holiday parties moved to the day before you planned to arrive. If you change your flight dates now you’d have to take more time off work and between your flight cancellation and the cost of the new flight will cost more than you originally planned for. If you have the financial and mental capacity to make the change, then certainly feel free to do so. BUT if making new arrangements leads to things like losing sleep, financial strain, etc. it’s time to have that honest, potentially difficult, conversation with the party host and let them know unfortunately, you will not be able to attend.
Whatever the boundary you set, or reason you are saying no to something, be clear and direct. Being honest doesn’t have to be aggressive or instigate conflict. Everyone only has so much mental and physical capacity any given day, not to mention during a busy season like the holidays.
Take care of your physical health
Get enough sleep. The LAST thing you need is to work yourself to exhaustion and fall asleep in the gravy bowl.
Hydrate, then hydrate some more. “Your brain is made up of 73% water, so you can imagine what happens when it becomes dehydrated. Systems begin to slow down, and they can no longer function properly. When this happens, it can cause symptoms of depression as your brain no longer has the proper energy to function correctly” (Northstar Traditions, 2021). I’m not saying you need to be drinking water all day everyday, just don’t forget to hydrate in the hustle and bustle of holiday planning. Remember to listen to the cues your body is telling you - it knows what it needs and when.
Eating nutritious, balanced meals has shown to directly impact mental and physical health. An article from the New York Times explores findings of studies on the relationship between nutrition and mental health as well as the impact studies are having on psychiatrists and clinicians in their patient analysis and recommendations. (New York Times, 2021).
Stay active. We at Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation (TMPF) offer a variety of free and affordable paid programs focused on getting active while spending time in nature. If you’re interested in a more structured option, check out TMPF’s Truckee Meadows Trails Challenge program for monthly guided hikes in the Truckee Meadows! If you’re interested in exploring on your own, you can also use resources like All Trails and TMPF’s Parks Project to create a personalized exploration of the Truckee Meadows on your own!
From professionals. If you’ve never sought mental health support and aren’t sure where to start, speak with your primary care physician first. They can help guide you through the process and make recommendations/referrals appropriate for your situation and insurance. You can always do research beforehand on your own and check out online options such as BetterHelp, Teladoc or Talkspace.
From furry friends! “Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood” (News in Health, 2018). Don’t have a furry friend of your own? Volunteer at a local animal shelter to give back to the community while getting some love from furry friends! Some local volunteer opportunities include Northern Nevada SPCA and Nevada Humane Society.
From yourself! Implement and/or maintain other self-care practices. You know yourself better than anyone so you know what self-care practices will work best for you, but for some tips check out our blog “Winter Time Self Care” by Kristina Lee.
This certainly isn’t a comprehensive list; it’s a starting point meant to get your mental health management mindset kick started! At the end of the day my biggest tip is to be kind and patient with yourself. No one is perfect. Conflicts and stress are inevitable no matter what preparations you take, it’s how you react to them that will impact yours and your loved ones’ mental health most. I’m wishing you all a joyful, peaceful, peppermint hot cocoa filled holiday season!
About the Author:
Sara was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. After earning her Bachelor of Arts in English Studies from Illinois State University, Sara used her love for
travel to give back to communities across the country through AmeriCorps service. She served as a Corps Member with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) in Iowa, then as Construction Crew Leader with New Orleans Habitat for Humanity and closed her service chapter as VISTA Leader with Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation. After working for other Reno based non-profits, Envirolution and the Great Basin Institute, Sara is beyond excited to return to the Parks Foundation as our Office Associate! In her spare time, Sara enjoys hiking, yoga, reading, podcasts, and spoiling her cats rotten.