Staying Emotionally Healthy During the Holidays

Follow these tips to take care of yourself and your mental health

It’s holiday time again, and the cheer and good tidings of the season are in full swing. Bells are ringing, lights are blinking, candles are burning, and stockings everywhere are being hung with care.

It’s also that special time of year when you get to spend a weekend trapped with your hypercritical mother, your brother who just can’t understand why you’re not more successful, and your drunk uncle with the wandering hands.

If this scenario horrifies you, you probably have a great family and loving celebrations with them. That’s wonderful. But if it sounds a little familiar, chances are your holiday gatherings and your toxic family are taking a toll on your mental health year after year.

If you’ve created separation from your family that keeps you sane for most of the year, you may especially feel overwhelmed during this time of year, as tradition demands that you subjugate your own mental health for the sake of family.

You don’t have to do this. Your mental health is too valuable to put at risk.

Your mental health is yours to protect, so get proactive.

holiday decorations on table

Here are some tips for having a mentally healthy holiday with your less-than-perfect family:
  • Lower your expectations. Much of the disappointment of the holidays comes from a sense of false hope that somehow things will be better this time. They won’t, so plan on a bit of a tough time, and focus on just getting through it. This can also help you avoid specific issues if you can see them coming and get out of the way – just like last year, if Dad has too much wine, he’s going to remind you why you’re wrong about everything.
  • Set reasonable boundaries. There are lots of ways this can really help. If a certain topic of conversation is explosive, it’s out-of-bounds for you. If four hours of uncle Jeff is all you can take, then four hours is your time boundary. If things tend to go haywire around 8 pm, then there’s your boundary. This is really personal, so it’s worth taking some time to brainstorm and get these boundaries down on paper, and remember they can be almost anything.
  • Have an exit strategy. Be prepared to leave the room or the house if things go off the rails. This is obviously a last resort, but if relatives can’t respect your boundaries or you’ve simply had enough, you can always bug out.
  • Line up some support. It’s a good idea to connect with a friend for support. This can help you when preparing for the big event if you need real-time support on the spot, and even with debriefing and venting when it’s all over. Your friends chose you, they want to be there for you, and your friendships may very well grow because of it. Just don’t forget to show them your gratitude.
  • Prepare a list of conversation topics. One thing you can count on is the moment when you have to change the subject. In fact, there may be many of these, so it’s good to have a list of pleasant or neutral topics ready to go. Interesting stories from the news work well. There are always plenty of human-interest stories around the holidays to help bring out the best in an otherwise rotten holiday. Do some reading and be ready to discuss; this can keep the family enthralled (and quiet) when you really need them to be.

Take care of yourself and happy holidays.

Felicia Baucom
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