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Realistic tips for a mentally healthy holiday season

November 28, 2019 by Kimberly Drake

Well, here we go again, another holiday season is upon us, and our calendar for the next few weeks is most likely packed to the hilt, much like Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve. School concerts, dinner planning, gift buying and the infamous “where are we going to put Uncle so-and-so when we already have a house full?” are all coming at once, and we must somehow have everything ready, wrapped, cooked, and decorated before midnight, Dec. 24. 

However, despite the magical nature of the holidays, we are, after all, mere mortals, and the stress that accompanies these tasks can take its toll on our mental health. Before one more stress-filled holiday comes and goes, perhaps it’s time for a reality check into a few things you can do to lessen the strain, and not just make it through the season, but perhaps experience a little joy along the way.

Stick to a budget

Avoiding reckless spending during the holidays is easier said than done, but adhering to a gift-giving budget can save both money and post-splurge guilt. Make a list and stick to it, resisting the urge to get “just one more thing” for that certain person. Also, because it’s easy to overspend when using a credit card, give yourself a visual limit by using a predetermined amount of cash for purchasing gifts and holiday-related items.

Family stress

It’s rare to bring families together without some sort of angst. Mothers, fathers and siblings all know how to push each other’s buttons, which can cause conflict. Realize that you can’t please everyone, all of the time, and be realistic in your expectations during family gatherings. Recognize when you need a break from the chaos and, if required, pause before reacting and excuse yourself for a moment to regroup your thoughts. Often when given a few moments to calm down and reflect, your response becomes more logical and not fueled with emotion, which lessens the stress levels in everyone involved.

Put aside perfectionism

The perfect gift, perfectly wrapped with a card enclosed that’s written to perfection is most people’s ideal, but often the reality is quite the opposite. Come to terms with the fact that there is no such thing as perfection, and that gift haphazardly wrapped in a plastic grocery bag is just as special as the one wrapped in gold because, after all, it’s the heartfelt thought that really counts.

Keep to an exercise schedule

When there’s no time for your usual full workout, it’s perfectly acceptable to have a streak of quick sessions in the gym to get through the holidays. Even a little bit helps center the mind and maintain physical condition, so you’re raring to go when it’s time to initiate those soon to be pledged health-related New Year’s resolutions.

Exercising boundaries

Being the “yes-man or woman” and agreeing to take on extra things when you are already overwhelmed is a recipe for holiday disaster. Learn to say “no” without guilt, release control over certain situations, and stand in your power when others attempt to guilt you into doing something you don’t have the time or energy to accomplish.  

Fend off loneliness

For those who feel alone due to estrangement, a recent loss, or lack of friends and family close by, the isolation can feel inescapable. If this is the case for you, investigate ways to feel connected again, such as volunteering for a worthy cause, keeping in the loop on social media or attending local holiday-themed activities. If the lonely feeling becomes overwhelming, seeking the help of a trained therapist can help you navigate these feelings, which are often worse during this time of the year.


Does the exterior of the house really need to be lit up with so many Christmas lights that it is a beacon for airline flight navigators? Do you actually need to make Grandma’s traditional fruit cake from scratch even though no one eats it? Do you absolutely have to drive three hours to one family dinner, then turn around and drive two hours to another? If this sounds like a familiar holiday for you, and it has been a stressful ordeal for years, maybe it’s time to change these traditions to better align with your current needs.

Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Year’s, or whatever holiday you celebrate is meant to be a time of happiness, not days and weeks of insurmountable stress. Perhaps it’s time to reclaim our joy during the holidays by controlling what we can, releasing what we can’t, and finding a new way to approach old traditions. Call it a holiday gift to yourself! 

Kimberly Drake can be reached at [email protected]

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