Is this time of year already taking a toll on your mental health?
Winter is often a busy, stressful time of year. And not just because of the challenges the weather poses! There are a lot of expectations on this time of year, and it often can be a profoundly isolating season. We’re often told it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s actually usually a time when people struggle enormously with their mental health.
There are a lot of reasons this time of year might be hard for you. Even in non-pandemic times, it’s hard to live up to the expectation that something is “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s too much pressure! And given how much we’ve all been through in the last year and half, that seems like an especially unreasonable expectation to have.
Another big stressor around the winter holidays is money. With those seasonal expectations usually comes the expectation of gifts for loved ones. This last year has already been tough on people in that area–the pandemic has brought about huge waves of job losses, creating even more financial stress on people.
And of course, this time of year often exacerbates feelings of loneliness and isolation that people may already be struggling with. Whether it stems from being surrounded by celebrations for holidays you don’t celebrate for nearly the last two months of the year, or being far away from loved ones at a time you’d like to be spending with them, or the loss of a loved one through a breakup, divorce, or death–there are many reasons those feelings of loneliness ramp up around this time of year.
So how can we tend to our mental health during the winter holidays? First, you need to identify the source of your distress.
Is it the fact that you’re over committed?
Determine your “social budget” for the season. How much can you realistically commit to? Decide what that is and give yourself permission to set that as a hard limit. When other invitations come up, express gratitude and politely decline. Perhaps offer an alternative get together for after the new year when things have slowed down.
Be sure to save time for yourself too. Build it into your holiday “plans” as though it’s another commitment you must attend.
Is it financial anxiety about the holidays?
Set a hard budget for the season. Giving gifts is nice but it’s not the only way to show you care about someone! There are many other ways to show your love and gratitude without going out and spending a ton of money. If you want something tangible to give, you can do homemade gifts, or handmade cards, or something home cooked to share.
Or, if you’re okay not having a physical gift, prioritize time spent together instead! Get together and cook a holiday meal together, or make your favorite winter desserts together, decorate gingerbread houses, or watch your favorite seasonal movies.
Are you feeling lonely?
Be kind to yourself, this is a hard time of year for many. If you can’t physically be with loved ones, try to make time to call friends who are far away. There are also often local events run by community groups around the end of the year. Whether it’s opportunities to volunteer (often needed around the holidays!) or just social events, connecting with new members of your community can help you feel less isolated, and give you a new alternative to old traditions you can’t participate in.
Most importantly, don’t squash down any of your feelings during the holidays!
There is no “wrong” way to feel during the winter holidays. If you’re grieving, allow yourself that grief. You don’t just have to feel one thing at a time–we’re all complicated people! Enjoying time with loved ones doesn’t mean feelings of grief or loneliness aren’t difficult and present for you, and vice versa. Instead, find ways to tend to all of your feelings this season.