By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– The holiday season, with its traditional emphasis on time with loved ones and expectations of joy that may go unmet, is likely only to exacerbate the strain this year. Even during the best of times, nearly two thirds of people with a diagnosed mental illness report that the holidays make their mental health challenges worse. This is part two of a three part series on mental health and 2020. With all of these overlapping concerns in mind, it’s more important than ever during this season of this particular year to prioritize mental well-being, which in the long-term helps to protect your personal brand as well. Here are some strategies for doing just that during this upcoming holiday season:
- Emphasize well-being. This may seem overly simplified, but it is an important foundational mindset shift to do the things that emphasize both mental and physical well-being in a year designed to challenge both. That may mean turning down holiday invitations that would usually bring joy in favor of protecting loved ones with a pre-existing condition. It may mean relaxing long-term financial goals for just a few months in favor of spending money to get through the holidays however possible. With every decision this holiday season, vow to emphasize mental and physical well-being.
- Consent to boundaries. In light of the concerns over COVID-19 infection, boundaries with family, friends and work engagements are crucial. Firm and thoughtful discussions over safety protocol should be consented to by anyone planning to gather, and respect should be shown for anyone who chooses not to leave the safety of their own home. This holiday season is the perfect time to set those frank boundaries, as the stakes are higher than ever.
- Create new traditions. Because of the pandemic or economic strains, certain long-held traditions, whether long-distance work or personal travel or local community celebrations, may become impossible this year. This can be extremely disappointing and exacerbate the holiday blues. Take time to acknowledge that sadness, but then choose to create new traditions instead of wallowing. Seeing relatives on video chat may not be a perfect substitute for an in-person gathering, but the upside may be that more relatives are able to talk in real-time than ever before. Build new traditions and focus on what is being gained, rather than what has been lost. It is a great time to try to be more positive, a trait that will be particularly memorable in a difficult year.
- Get outside. As the weather cools down across the country and the sun sets earlier and earlier, it can be tempting to hunker down under blankets and stay inside for days. With the proliferation of remote work, it is even more possible to entirely avoid leaving the house for long stretches of time. Resist that impulse, bundle up, and get (safely!) outside as often as possible. Studies have found that time outside in nature improves blood pressure, lowers stress hormones, and helps break the loop of negative thoughts. If getting outside is impossible, playing nature sounds indoors has been shown to have similar effects.
- Challenge yourself. In a season that emphasizes gift-giving, it can be easy to simply order the latest gadget or trendy fashion to surprise loved ones. Instead, consider using the opportunity of the season as a way to learn new skills. Perhaps a cross-stitch of a friend’s favorite television show or a homemade specialty sourdough loaf will put the new skills learned during lockdown to use while also touching the hearts of loved ones this year. Educational courses on digital platforms that help grow your resume are another way to learn new skills.
- Help others. One proven way to boost mental health is by simply taking the focus outward and being of assistance to others. Studies show that altruism improves both mental and physical health, making it an obvious choice, especially during the holiday season when others may be most in need of help. Volunteer with a local organization, gather supplies for a neighbor experiencing hardship, or even make it a point to check in more often on a lonely friend. Everyone will benefit from the mental health benefits of community helping.
In a year filled with unique challenges that even the CDC recognizes will pose extra mental health concerns, it is critical to take care of holiday season mental health. Choose to prioritize mental health, establish boundaries, create new holiday traditions, get outside, find ways to challenge yourself, and be a community helper. All of these strategies can help make this difficult holiday season brighter.