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7 Ways to Cope with the Holiday Season

Silver Hill Hospital

The holidays are quickly approaching and not everyone is feeling the holiday cheer. For many, the holiday season is synonymous with stress and if you’re one of the millions living with a mental illness, you know that stress can trigger or worsen symptoms of your illness. That’s why it’s important to understand what your triggers are and come up with ways to cope.

1. Know What Increases Your Stress Level
The first step is understanding what stresses you out in order to come up with ways to cope. Try to identify specific stressors. Is it too many holiday parties? Is it family gatherings? Maybe it’s the pressure to buy gifts, which may put a strain on your bank account.

2. Create a Plan
When you plan ahead, you can reduce stress because it gives you a certain level of control. Put it on paper so you can see the days and make realistic plans. If you see you have more tasks than days to complete them, figure out how you can scale back. Decide what is most important to you and eliminate the “should-dos” on your list. Don’t forget to create and stick to a budget.

3. Tame Your Expectations
If you want everything to be “perfect”, you are putting unnecessary stress on yourself. Perfection is something you create in your mind. You will never be able to bake every cookie or make every holiday decoration that you pin on Pinterest. If you can’t get holiday cards out or you don’t have the money to buy everything on your children’s wish-list, don’t beat yourself up. It’s ok!

4. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Your Facebook feed may be filled with pictures of children opening big expensive gifts, people eating huge feasts or houses with elaborate decorations. It’s easy to feel like you don’t measure up and adds pressure to keep up with your friends. Research has shown a correlation between time spent on social media sites and a person’s self-esteem and anxiety levels; the more time spent on these sites, the worse you feel. It’s a good idea to limit your social media use, especially during the holidays, if it leaves you feeling bad about yourself. Besides, it’s better to live in the present moment instead of staring at a screen.

5. Do Things Because YOU Want to
If you try to please everyone else in your life and do nothing that makes you happy during the holidays (or the rest of the year for that matter), you will feel resentful and more stressed. It’s great to do things for others, but when you neglect your own needs and wants, you will feel worse. Do some things that you actually want to do, not just the things you have to do or tell yourself you have to do. Sometimes you have to say no to things.

6. Avoid Alcohol or Consume in Moderation
Many people feel that alcohol reduces stress, but it can actually worsen it. While you may feel good for a couple hours, after the alcohol wears off, it can leave you feeling even more anxious or depressed. It can trigger mood swings in bipolar disorder and interfere with prescription medications. Furthermore, if you are drinking while you’re anxious or very stressed, you may end up consuming larger amounts of alcohol to try to combat your feelings. Here are some tips for avoiding alcohol during the holidays and alcohol-free holiday drink recipes.

7. Don’t Ditch Self-Care
Be sure to get enough sleep, continue to exercise and make time for your doctor or therapist appointments. Don’t stop doing whatever you do the rest of the year to keep yourself feeling good. Sticking to your routine as best you can will help keep stress in check, which helps reduce mental illness symptoms.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a good resource for learning about more ways to manage stress and take care of yourself.