5 tips to help protect your mental health during the holidays

It’s considered “the most wonderful time of year,” but to some, it’s anything but. The stress and pressure of the holidays can begin to weigh heavy on even the jolliest person. Whether it’s hosting family, holiday shopping or baking, the list of obligations this season tends to run long.

For those battling mental health challenges, the holiday season may feel even more difficult — which may lead to increased anxiety and depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people living with a mental illness say their symptoms feel worse during the holidays.

Mental health affects more than just your health — it may encompass a lot of what makes you who you are. It can affect how you think, feel, act and how you relate to others. Enjoyment of daily activities and motivation may also be affected.

Mental health challenges can also show up in physical ways, such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Increased heart rate
  • Upset stomach
  • Sleep problems

To help prepare yourself for the season and help protect your mental health, consider these tips:

1. Know your time and spending limits

To avoid a busy schedule that may have you feeling overwhelmed, learn to say no to some invitations. In cases where you can’t, try to find something else that can come off your calendar, so you don’t overextend yourself. Financial pressures can cause stress during and after the holidays. Set a realistic budget and stick to it. If money is tight, find low- and no-cost ways to show appreciation for the people in your life.

2. Give yourself a break

While you’re focused on doing special things for others, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. If you feel tension or worry building up, spend a little time on something you love about the season, such as watching a holiday movie, enjoying a cup of cocoa or checking out neighborhood decorations. And if you’re not feeling cheery, that’s OK, too. Giving yourself alone time to unwind and perhaps practice mindfulness may help you recharge and feel better.

3. Keep a gratitude journal

In the midst of the busy holiday season, which has themes of giving thanks and showing appreciation, it can be easy to forget the blessings in your life. Keeping a gratitude journal for this time of year can help you focus on the good that exists and improve your mood. The simple act of writing alone may even help boost your mental health.

4. Don't abandon good habits

A healthy lifestyle may also help you make it through the holiday rush. Try to stick to your normal sleep schedule, get regular exercise, eat nutrient-rich meals and be cautious about how often and how much you drink. Going overboard may add stress and guilt — and possibly extra pounds to deal with at resolution time. It’s also a good time to stay on top of preventive screenings and make sure you’re up to date on your annual flu shot.

5. Access your health benefits

If you continue to struggle, consider talking to your primary care provider or using other resources available through your health plan. Insurers like UnitedHealthcare offer behavioral health solutions that range from care for your mental health to treatment for substance use disorder. Get details on your health plan’s website or app — or call the number on your member ID card.

Heading into the holidays with a plan for handling your mental health may be the best gift you can give yourself and the people who’ll share the season with you.

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