Holiday safety check: Don’t forget mental health

Tiffany George
Tiffany George

There is no official starting bell for the holiday season. Some say the first of November, Thanksgiving Day or the day after. I say it begins the moment you start to feel stressed about the holidays.

If you are like me, you start to think about a long list of tasks to accomplish. I think about making special food, which usually equates to fighting crowds in grocery stores and spending long hours in the kitchen. Next come gifts for loved ones, of course. And then the dilemma about gifts for everyone else under the sun, which leads to financial concerns, more shopping and a ridiculous amount of time wrapping said gifts. No holiday gift bags allowed! Then there is the anticipation of extra get-togethers with friends and family. All joyful events, but it can leave this closet introvert feeling rather depleted and desperate for solitude.

What other Yuletide stressors can we add to this list? Holiday travel. Extra obligations. Anniversaries of grief and sorrow. Family drama. Spending the holidays alone can be a painful reminder of broken relationships, long distances or life circumstances that leave a person feeling lonely and depressed. And who could forget the societal pressure we all feel to spend more money than we probably have, which creates a feeling of inadequacy and heightens the stress response.

All of these stressors are greatly exacerbated if you are already experiencing a mental health issue.

Let's face it, the holidays are wonderful and stressful for everyone. Here are a few tips to help manage your emotional wellness during the holidays and hopefully create space to find more inner peace and joy.

Holiday Survival First Aid Kit

First, practice mindfulness. Try to focus on just one thing at a time. Notice all the racing thoughts and gently bring your focus back to the here and now. Ground yourself with your five senses. What you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell will help your mind focus on the present moment.

Second, stick to your health routines as much as possible. It sounds so basic, but it is sometimes the first thing to fly out the window. You need to eat nourishing food, drink water, have regular exercise/movement, take daily medications and rest!

Third, make a priority plan. What is the most important thing to you this season? I find Christine Miserandino's spoon theory to be particularly helpful and essential when I feel overwhelmed. I remember that I have a finite amount of energy and some tasks will require more energy to accomplish. Likewise, some self-care activities will restore my energy. Be kind to your mind, heart and body and give yourself permission to say no. Saying no is essential in this first aid kit. Only you can protect your energy.

Lastly, let us not forget that during the holidays, there are so many factors out of your control. Give yourself a gentle reminder that you can only control yourself.

This holiday season is a perfect time to utilize any previously learned coping skills for stress relief. Whether that is holding space for sadness or grief, deep breathing, taking a walk, listening to uplifting music, or petting your favorite four-legged family member, know what works for you and implement many things! Any one activity might not bring your stress level from a 10 to a 0, but isn't it still valuable to bring it from a 10 to an 8? Thank goodness the holiday season only lasts roughly six weeks. You have the previous 46 weeks to lean on and the next 46 weeks to prepare.

Tiffany George is a licensed professional counselor with SSM Health Medical Group. She earned a bachelor of science in psychology from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, Minnesota and her masters in counseling from Missouri Baptist University-St. Louis. She is a certified therapist and K-12 school counselor. To make an appointment with her, please call 573-681-3249.