The holidays are often considered the most joyous time of year, but they’re not this way for everyone. In fact, holiday-related depression, anxiety and stress is a very real thing. People feel this pressure from many factors such as unrealistic expectations, financial pressures and excessive commitments.
As if this wasn’t difficult enough, now we are facing a pandemic. COVID-19 is placing added stress on families, especially as many aren’t able to see their loved ones. And if this is your first year being sober, the challenges may feel even more intense. You can’t rely on drugs and alcohol so you must have other ways to cope.
Below we share some tips for dealing with holiday stress and depression, particularly for those who are new to living a sober lifestyle.
Tips for Preserving Your Mental Health Over the Holidays
The holiday season presents a wide range of challenges like holiday shopping, cooking, baking, cleaning and entertaining. And if coronavirus is spreading in your community, your holiday plans may look different than usual.
While the holidays will bring unique challenges this year, it’s important not to let a few weeks impact your recovery and the hard work you’ve put in. With some practical tips, you can get through this season and even learn to enjoy it! Below are some tips for preventing holiday stress and depression.
Acknowledge your feelings.
Whether you’ve recently lost a loved one, your plans have changed due to COVID-19 or you’re newly sober, it’s okay to feel sadness or grief. Take some time to feel your feelings. Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean you have to feel happy all the time. In fact, bottling up your emotions can make things worse. If you have to, write in a journal or schedule a virtual telehealth visit.
Don’t ignore self-care.
Continue taking good care of yourself during the holiday season. It’s easy to forget this because there are so many distractions around. Whether it’s indulging in cookies and sweets, getting less sleep at night or exercising less often, it doesn’t take much to fall out of your routine.
However, as you know from your time in mental health treatment, having a healthy, predictable schedule is an important part of staying healthy. Be sure to continue practicing good self-care by eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep at night and exercising daily.
Set aside your differences.
Try to accept your loved ones as they are. You don’t have control over what they do so it’s in your best interests to let them be as they are. In fact, practicing a bit of compassion goes a long way. Your loved ones are probably feeling the pressure as well and feel a need to act out because of it. Of course, if you believe that certain individuals will negatively affect your mental health, politely decline the invitation. Your recovery must come first.
Stay connected to others.
With COVID-19 happening, people are feeling lonelier than ever. While it may not be ideal, you can stay connected to others through technology. Use FaceTime or Skype to talk to loved ones. Check in on friends with a simple text. Continue attending your 12 step meetings, whether they’re held in-person or virtually. There are also numerous websites and support groups you can turn to for support.
Keep your expectations realistic.
The holidays don’t have to be perfect. When you have unrealistic expectations, you set yourself up to feel dissatisfied. Instead, stay focused on the true meaning of the holidays. This is a time to practice gratitude, give to others and spend time with loved ones.
Things may look different this year, but it’s still Christmas. Send a gift to a loved one. Donate your time to a shelter. Write in your gratitude journal in the mornings. These are all ways to embrace the holiday season without putting unnecessary strain on yourself.
Plan ahead and create an exit strategy.
Set aside time for shopping, cooking, wrapping presents, etc. Leave room to relax and do the things you enjoy. Otherwise, you run the risk of tiring yourself out and exacerbating symptoms of substance abuse or mental illness. Keeping a healthy, balanced schedule prevents this from happening. Also, create an escape plan so that you can easily leave a party or event if things get uncomfortable.
Take advantage of telehealth visits.
Telemental health services are effective at treating a wide range of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and substance abuse. These virtual services are safe during a time like this, and they are available in a pinch. If you’re feeling triggered this holiday season, schedule a telehealth visit with your provider or a treatment center. Speaking with a mental health expert can be just what you need to work through your stressors and reframe your thinking.
Learn to say no.
The holidays come with many invites and expectations, so you can’t say yes to everything. And now with COVID-19, saying yes to everything would jeopardize your physical health! Pick and choose your events wisely. Avoid those that will be triggering and balance the rest. Remember, every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.
Take Control of the Holidays – and Remember – Mental Health Treatment is Never Far Away
Don’t let the holiday season become a time that you dread. The pandemic will improve and this will take some of the pressure off. But you will still be responsible for managing holiday-related stress and recognizing your personal triggers.
If, at any time, you feel that you’re at risk for relapse, know that help is within reach. Compassion Behavioral Health remains open during the holidays. We can provide you with the added support you need to get through the holiday season while protecting your mental and physical health. Contact us today if you feel that you could benefit from added support this season – we are here for you!