How to take care of your mental health over the holiday season

Getting through the holiday season can be a struggle for some of us but there are some strategies that can help. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The holidays can be a difficult time for our mental health. There are a lot of emotions, memories and stressful moments for some of us.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the holiday season can bring an increased sense of responsibility and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, many of us turn to unhealthy behaviors such as overindulging in eating or drinking to keep going. These actions often make people feel worse.

RELATED: Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba offers support over the holidays

There are healthier, longer-lasting techniques and coping strategies that people can use to make stress more manageable, especially at this time of year.

Both Dr. Andrea Piotrowski, a clinical psychologist from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and Sean Miller from the Canadian Mental Health Association  (CMHA) shared their expertise on Global News Morning.

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Maintaining your mental health over the holidays

Here are a few points to kind in mind:

Set realistic expectations

“Many of us, when we’re preparing for the holidays, we have high expectations, we want everyone to get along, everybody to be healthy enough to come to our family meal… and sometimes that just doesn’t happen,” Piotrowski said.

Anxiety, depression and worrying are normal reactions to stressful situations. Piotrowski recommends accepting help and support from people who care to alleviate stress.

Put things in perspective

“Take a step back, thinking about ‘what’s important about this day?'” Piotrowski said. “Is it about those family connections or is it about that perfect turkey and all of the cookies baking not burning?”

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Piotrowski encourages people to think about connections when spending time with loved ones and to use resilience even when plans are thrown off.

LISTEN: University of Calgary professor Keith Dobson chats with Angela Kokott about how to look after your mental health during the holidays

READ MORE: Turning to technology to cope with holiday blues

The APA also reminds people that there will be time after the holiday season to do more of the things we’ve overlooked or did not have time to do over the holidays.

Set a budget

“Spend cash only, don’t go over your means because we really want to enjoy the holidays,” Miller said.

He suggests buying a group gift, paying for an experience or one gift for your friends and family, instead of buying so many items as one way to ease stress.

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The APA recommends limiting time at shopping malls and avoiding splurge opportunities by leaving credit and debit cards at home and only carrying the amount of cash you can spend.

Give yourself a break

“We want to be really gentle with ourselves and just think ahead, plan ahead… there’s a lot of inactivity that goes along with overindulgence,” Miller said.

“Overeating can cause feelings of guilt and shame afterwards so we just really want to give ourselves a break over the holidays.”

Miller said reaching out to cultural communities or checking out events and activities in the leisure guide can also help people find places to get out of the house and be around others.

“Loneliness and isolation go hand in hand,” Miller said. “One of the things we suggest people do is volunteer for a non-profit organization.”

Ask for support

“If we’re dealing with loss it’s important to surround yourself with people that understand, Miller said. “It’s ok if this holiday isn’t like previous holidays.”

“Ask friends and family, supports, to check in on you, make that request,” Miller said.

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There is a new resource guide on the CMHA’s website here.

Piotrowski said seeking help from a mental health professional, which could be a psychologist, may improve how you feel.

Speaking with your family doctor to see what options are available is another option.


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