Taking care of my mental health during the holidays

by Hilary T., Synapse team member


This blog post contains content and/or library materials that cover mental health and wellness topics. We are not medical professionals, so please always seek the advice or care from a mental health or health care professional to find out how this topic may or may not apply to your unique situation or overall health.

Please note, this blog post may contain references to mental health topics that could be triggering.

The holidays are here, and with this festive time of year comes an increase in mental health challenges. NAMI reports that 64% of people have more trouble with their mental health during the holidays. For me, that means that the best time to make a plan on handling this rather turbulent time of year is right now. What’s my plan? Let me outline it for you.

"I plan on..."

Taking breaks when I need to. Breaks are so important that having built in break time really should be something we do all the time. I take meditation breaks and listen to my meditation app whenever I need to. However, I also try to meditate every morning and every afternoon. Does it always work out? No, but I can tell the days that I can’t afford to give it up. On those days I prioritize it.

Going to bed early. I have a full-time job, and I take care of my parents. Plus, I have a small dog who is just plain bossy. Sleep is extremely important. I happen to know that if I am in bed early it’s boring, but it also means that I will get a good night of sleep.

Letting go of what I cannot control. Is Aunt Beth going to get in a political fight with Uncle Rick this year? I can’t control that. Is the dog going to bark too much at the guests? Yeah, I can’t control that either. What I have a hope of controlling is my reaction, my boundaries, my words, the choices I make, if I ask for help, the way I treat others, being open and adaptable to changes, etc. It’s good to make a list of what you can control and what you can’t around this time of year.

Putting my mental and physical needs first. It’s tempting to overdo it at the holidays. I’ll start feeling great and then I’ll bake that batch of cookies I know I didn’t have the energy to make. I must be honest with myself and others about what I have the time and energy to do and what I need to let go. Honestly, if the homemade cookies don’t get made by me, is it that big a thing? Is this something that I can choose to let go? Why, yes, it is! That’s good news! It’s good that we don’t have to do everything. Nothing is set in stone. The plans can be changed.

Being realistic about how happy everyone must be, including me. There are no perfect people. So, why do we expect a perfect holiday? Nothing is perfect. Rather than expecting perfection, I plan on expecting people to be people. They will feel what they feel. We can’t always be happy at the holidays. We can’t demand happiness. But we can be ready to greet it when it comes. I hope your holiday is full of quiet moments of happiness that appear out of nowhere. Those are a gift.

Changing my holiday traditions if I feel I need to. Listen, if making Aunt Mildred’s famous coffee cake recipe is getting on my last nerve I give myself permission to just let that go. I give myself permission to change my holiday traditions so that they make sense. I give myself permission to make new traditions that mean more to me and my family. I give you that permission too!

Managing my time well. Just about every few days lately I’ve tried to think about some aspect of the holidays coming up and see if I can make slow progress towards decisions that need to be made. It’s okay to change your plans if they don’t fit well, and it’s okay to say no to invitations that don’t make you feel well. It’s okay to protect your time and to arrange your plans the way you need them to be. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed this time of year, but planning things out will help you feel better.

Setting the boundaries I need to set. Families are complicated. Do what you need to do to make it through. Talking with a trusted friend or counselor can help you making decisions on how you want to set these boundaries.

Practicing exquisite self-care. It’s tempting to put yourself on the back burner, so to speak so that you can prioritize others. However, this inevitably leads to me feeling worse than I would have and having less energy to do things. It’s important to fill your own cup first so that you can share the overflow with others. Or, if I am drained, then I give myself permission to be honest with others and get the rest I need.

Asking for support if I need it. I’m going to be ready for something to be unexpectedly wrong or not quite right. Something will go sideways. You know, that’s okay. I can always just get through it as best I can, taking one thing at a time. It will all be okay! It really will.

If you made a list like this what would it look like?

Taking the time to make such a list makes me feel like I have a plan. It will probably be a bit different from day to day, but it feels good to write it down so that I can keep my goals in mind!

Helpful resources

The Anxiety Healer's Guide

Real Self-care

Elf-Help for Living with Joy

Get help

  • Ready to connect with a mental health professional? Visit the You Are Not Alone, Pima County Health Department to be connected with COPE Community Services.
  • In a crisis? Text HOME to 741741. Need further support? Call (520) 622-6000 to be connected to the Crisis Response Network.
  • Suicide Hotline: dial 988 to be connected immediately to someone who can provide free, confidential support 24/7.
  • The Trevor Project provides 24/7 support to the LGBTQIA+ community. Call 1-866-488-7386 or text “Start” to 678-678 to be connected to a counselor.

All of us on the Synapse Team wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday! Be sure to take good care of yourself! You deserve it. You mean so much to so many people. You are so special and worth taking good care of. Don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it. As Mister Rogers said, "There's only one you, and I like you just the way you are."