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Tips to Focus on Your Well-Being During the Holiday Season

December 15, 2022

Along with the joy of holiday lights, colorfully wrapped gifts and family get-togethers, there are often some challenges that accompany this time of year.

The holidays can be a time of parties, presents and great food, all of which can help us cope with the cold, grey days of winter. But for many, this can also be a time of struggle. A recent poll from the American Psychiatric Association found that 31% of people are experiencing higher levels of stress this year than last year, in part due to financial concerns.

Here are some tips from Dr. Daniel Carlat, Medical Director of Inpatient Psychiatry and Chair of Psychiatry at MelroseWakefield Hospital, for ensuring that your holidays this year stay positive and propel you into 2023 with a sense of hope and optimism.

Socialize as it suits you
A perennial source of stress during the holidays is attending or hosting holiday parties and dinners. Try to lower your expectations. You don’t have to attend every event you’re invited to and not every party is going to turn out perfectly. Family discussions may turn to politics or the economy and you should feel free to disengage. Leaving a party early to get cozy on the couch at home to watch your favorite holiday movie is time-honored and acceptable option.

Combat loneliness

For many of us, the problem is not too many invitations—but too few. If you are feeling lonely and find yourself staring at your four walls and TV for too long, don’t underestimate the simple magic of just getting out of the house. Go to a mall and walk around, or find a busy restaurant or café and get yourself a table, bringing your laptop or a book. A change of scene is a highly underestimated coping skill.

Honor the departed
While the pandemic is finally winding down, over one million Americans have died from COVID-19, and up to 10 million are struggling with long COVID symptoms such as chronic fatigue or depression. If you are spending your holiday season without a loved one, this can be a time of fresh grief. Make sure to share this time with others to ease the pain. Transmute your feelings of grief into a celebration of your loved one’s life. For example, many Asian cultures create household shrines to honor ancestors, a practice that we can all adopt in whatever way makes sense, such as placing a photo on the mantel and offering a toast while listening to a song you both enjoyed.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle
The stress of the holidays can lead to insomnia and excessive drinking and eating, all of which can then increase your stress level to create a vicious cycle. Prevent that cycle by doubling down on healthy choices.

Choose your substances thoughtfully. Yes, alcohol or cannabis can temporarily improve your mood and may numb your anxiety but consider if the aftereffects—such as fatigue or hangover—are really worth it. Caffeinated beverages, within limits, can also improve your mood and make your feel more social.

Daily exercise—or just movement. Just 20 minutes a day of some form of exercise has been shown to improve your mood and your physical health. That can be as simple as briskly walking around your neighborhood.  If you have a job with lots of sitting, get up every 60 minutes for five minutes–lift a couple of light weights or do some squats.

Take a moment for yourself daily. Take a break for yourself every day. This can be 30 seconds of pausing to do some deep breathing or an hour of meditation and contemplation. It’s a great habit all year long, but especially during this inherently high-stress time.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department immediately.

Ask for help if you are feeling persistently sad or hopeless, have a number of physical complaints, can’t sleep or feel unable to participate in normal activities, you may need to speak with a professional. Call your primary care provider or counselor and have an honest discussion with them about your feelings.

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