The holiday season is going to feel and be experienced differently than in the past. The holidays are a stressful and joyful time of year. Research has shown women carry the majority of the holiday stress in ‘normal holiday seasons.’
Combine seasonal holiday stress with the ongoing pandemic stress which creates the perfect storm and incredible stress. Collectively, the mental health of mothers is being pushed to extremes.
Which is why taking care of your mental health this holiday season is one gift that in my opinion is non-negotiable right now. Here are 9 Ways to Take Care of Your Mental Health this Holiday Season and Beyond.
1. Reduce Alcohol Use. Why is this number one on the list? Because alcohol is readily available and many use to cope: relax and unwind, distract and numb out and escape from stress. Here’s the thing about alcohol use-left unmanaged, alcohol use can shift into abuse and dependence. Women should consume no more than seven servings of alcohol a week. One serving size is: 4-5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits or 8-9 ounces of malt liquor. Anything more than seven serving sizes in a week will have a negative impact on your mental and physical health and well-being.
2. Variety in Your Coping Skills. The pandemic has restricted many of the coping skills we relied on to manage stress and improve well-being. Attending social events, travel, gathering with family and friends, engaging in physical activities-going to gyms, sports, as well as creative hobbies and activities have likely been altered by the pandemic.
If you’re looking to manage your mental health and well-being, you’ll need the majority of your coping skills to be active coping skills. Active coping skills intentionally help to reduce/manage stress and improve well-being. Passive coping skills are ok every now and then, and to be used rarely if at all-coping skills to escaping or numbing coping skills. And coping skills that are destructive or harmful need to be avoided. If you notice a pattern of harmful or destructive coping skills, please reach out to a mental health professional for support and help on how to improve active and healthy coping skills. Also know, I’ve created a course, From Surviving to Thriving just for moms who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed and need some support. You can read more about the course From Surviving to Thriving here which includes three plus hours of videos (or listen podcast) over thirteen content areas all about how to take care of yourself and improve your coping skills.
3. Create a Routine. Daily schedules and routines provide a lot of comfort and security for children, and adults can benefit from having a routine and structure as well. Be sure to get up at the same time, go to bed around the same time and structure your meals, snacks and water breaks in a similar way. Based on your individual needs and responsibilities, schedule in exercise or physical activity as well as moments of rest and small moments of joy. Under stress and overwhelm, having to make less decisions and follow a routine, can decrease stress.
4. Schedule Joy Meaningful to You. We all need small things to look forward to right now. Activities that bring you a sense of joy, calm and restoration are critical right now. Even small moments throughout your day and week can improve your mental health. For example, a daily ritual such as having tea or savoring a meal or meditation or activity that relaxes you is something to look forward to.And here’s the thing-only you can decide what is meaningful and doable. Be creative and for one week schedule a joyful activity daily.
5. Let Go of Expectations to Create the ‘Perfect Holiday Season.’ You know what may be perfect this holiday season-letting go of perfect and the pressure to make the holidays more magical because we’re in a pandemic. Now more than ever is this the holiday season to simplify your holidays by letting go of stress, traditions that do not have meaning or create added stress or drain your energy.
6. Plan a Wellness Day ( or block of time). When your a mom, seldom if ever, do we get a day off. And when it comes to work- ‘time off’ is used for maternity leave, vacation, sick days or continuing education. We can be conditioned that something has to be wrong, or we have to have a reason to take a sick day (for ourselves or a family member) in order to take time off. Which is why taking a personal day or what I like to think of as a mental health or wellness day or block of time is strategy to manage stress and have something to look forward to weekly in smaller ways, and monthly for longer stretches of time if an entire day is not possible.
7. Be Intentional with Your Resources. The most valuable resources a mom has is time and energy. Ask yourself this: what are the top five to ten activities or responsibilities that take up your time and energy. Make a list. Looking at the list, of course, chances are work, caring for family and household chores will be on that list. Look down on the list and see where you make some changes, setting limits, boundaries and delegating to preserve your time and energy take care of your mental health. Is there something taking up your time and energy you can and need to let go of for your mental health and well-being?
8. Know the Signs of Overwhelm. The signs and symptoms for overwhelm include: emotional and physical fatigue, irritability and anger, increase in worry or anxious thoughts, difficulty concentrating, changes in sleep, eating and engaging in activities once enjoyed. Here is what I want you to reflect on: how do you know when you’re overwhelmed? What are the signs you notice when your stress tips into overwhelm? Write all of these signs down and beware of when they happen and what you can do to manage overwhelm.
9. Reach Out for Support. Now more than ever it is important to reach out to supportive friends and family when going through stress. Meaningful relationships are a buffer during stressful times and reduce stress. And if you’re not feeling like yourself, or symptoms of overwhelm and stress go on for weeks or months, then it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional for support and evaluation.
Wishing you health, self-care and resolve this holiday season!
© Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2020