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Looking after your mental health during the holiday season

As the year comes to an end, the holiday season starts to kick in. From Christmas to New Years, the end of year break is the one of the busiest times of the year. For some people, the end of year season is a break filled with reconnection with loved ones, gift-giving, travelling, and so much more. While the holidays can be a time filled with joy, laughter, and love, they can be quite stressful for some. There is often an expectation to feel joyful around the holiday period, but not everyone does. For others, it is a time when feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, or social isolation increase. 

Without even recognising it, the holiday can weigh heavily on many people. There are many factors that may affect your mental health over the holiday season, and these may include:

  • The stress associated with planning holiday parties, dinners, or get-togethers.
  • The overwhelm associated with packed calendars and long to-do lists
  • Overspending on gifts, food, and travel arrangements, among other things.
  • Spending the holidays alone or away from your loved ones.
  • The high expectations you may have trying to throw the perfect party or picking the perfect gift.
  • Not being able to afford gifts for your loved ones.
  • Feeling as though you can’t live up to others’ expectations.

This year, the holidays may look a little different due to the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has also made maintaining mental health more challenging for lots of people. In many circumstances, families have been kept apart due to travel restrictions. If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, you may be feeling additional stress, or you may be worrying about you and your loved ones’ health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different than previous years.

Below are some practical tips that may help you manage stress and increase your joy throughout the holiday period.

  1. Take steps to stay safe. As COVID-19 continues to pose a significant risk to communities, it is always best to plan according to the relevant community and government guidelines.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. If you’re feeling distraught about not being with loved ones or feeling isolated, give yourself permission to feel these feelings. It’s OK to take time to sit with and express your feelings. 
  3. Write a gratitude list and offer thanks. The end of year is a good time to reflect on what you are grateful for. Journaling is one way to do this, and gratitude has been shown to improve mental health.
  4. Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to it. Try these alternatives that may help reduce financial stress:
    • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
    • Give homemade gifts.
    • Start a family gift exchange.
  5. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list.
  6. Do the things you enjoy without abandoning healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all period, as overindulgence may add to pre-existing distress and guilt. Try these suggestions:
    • Eat healthy meals.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.
    • Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
    • Avoid excessive nicotine, alcohol and drug use.
  7. Take a breather. Take time out to find an activity you enjoy doing by yourself. Spending 20 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Some options may include:
    • Finding a free moment to go for a walk or stretch
    • Listening to soothing music
    • Reading a book
  8. Seek professional help when you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself still feeling low or anxious and other difficult feelings. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or contact our friendly team of psychologists at Mind Matters to discuss how we can better support you.

There are also places you can find mental health support, even on Christmas Day or New Years which can be a particularly difficult day. The following Mental health services operate 24/7 over the holiday season:

  • SANE Australia Online Forums
  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Line 1800 659 467
  • BeyondBlue 1300 224 636
  • Mensline 1300 789 978
  • KidsHelpline 1800 551 800
  • 1800RESPECT 1800 737 732
Keep reading about holiday Mental Health Stress Support
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