Mental Health is More Important Than Ever this Holiday Season

Keeping Mental Health Top of Mind as the Holidays Arrive

The holidays are often a stressful time of year due to travel, more time and money spent shopping, and extra social gatherings. Holiday stress got kicked up a notch in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, after nearly two years of uncertainty and safety concerns, the pandemic has continued to take its toll. Mental health needs have become more critical than ever. Here, we’ll review some of the leading causes of stress this holiday season and tips for prioritizing your mental health.

The Build-up of Holiday Expectations

The holidays involve big advertising, extra expenses, and emotional traditions. This creates a buildup of expectations and desires that often go unfulfilled. Now that restrictions on gatherings have loosened, schedules have filled up again with holiday events.

Some families may put extra pressure on themselves because they want to make up for lost time or feel like their celebration won’t measure up to previous years. Unfortunately, the holiday season doesn’t always live up to glowing memories from the past, and all the disruption from the pandemic may create more mixed feelings.

The Holiday Season has Been “Not Normal” for Two Years

In 2020, many people kept their distance and sent holiday greetings over the phone or video chat. Some who held their usual gatherings faced concerns about illness or missed loved ones who couldn’t attend. Many people have felt safer since the vaccines rolled out, but the delta variant has triggered surges of infection and raised questions once again about safe holiday gatherings.

Strained family relationships may come back into the picture as families return to gift giving and spending time together in person. The financial instability from the last year still looms over many families, stretching budgets to the brink. Some mourn family members who died from the virus, while others face division over pandemic safety measures and political views.

The Pandemic has Become a Chronic Stressor

It appeared that the pandemic was waning in the early summer of 2021, but recent surges have made it clear that the world won’t be done with the virus anytime soon. After nearly two years of coping with uncertainty, some feel hopeless about the return to normal life and those who aren’t as concerned about the virus may feel impatient about ongoing safety measures.

As for the holidays, some people may see this season as more meaningful as they reconnect with loved ones. Others may have trouble getting past the reminders of change, loss, and exhaustion.

Mental Health Stigma

The shame surrounding mental health issues is getting better in some ways. The pandemic has prompted more conversations about mental wellness and personal struggles. Unfortunately, stigma still exists, and people sometimes have trouble being open about their mental health needs.

Some promote the idea that people who take COVID-19 cautions are scared or weak, and those who aren’t as concerned about the virus are labeled unkind and misinformed. This name-calling adds stress and tension, making it difficult to have an honest conversation about emotional wellness.

People have long prioritized physical health needs over mental health. Mental health issues have been mislabeled as character flaws, signs of weakness, or something to be ashamed of. The healthcare industry has also put a low priority on mental health, both in funding and inclusion as treatable conditions.

Tips for Prioritizing your Mental Health this Season

We all need to make time for our mental health this year, especially during the holiday season. Here are some tips to help you enjoy the positive moments and get through the challenging ones.

Get rest and put limits on how much you’ll do

Holidays can be tiring, even if it’s mostly emotional exhaustion. More people are active this year, and it may be tempting to fill your schedule like usual. The effects and stress of the pandemic still linger, and you may feel more worn out than you expect. This may be a chance to adjust traditions to be less taxing on everyone.

Be realistic about expectations and try to be flexible

It’s tempting to feel like you need to make up for lost time, but it may not be possible. Last-minute changes may still happen because of illness, weather, or other issues. Do what you can and commit to staying connected somehow if things change. Try to focus on time together, whatever that looks like, even if it’s not the usual schedule or traditional activities.

It’s OK to have upset or mixed feelings during the holidays

Having mixed feelings doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you. There’s a misperception that holidays are always happy and full of fun. Reality says otherwise, so take the time to recognize that. Prepare for ups and downs so you aren’t taken aback when your mood shifts. Face your emotions and cope with them when they come up. If a disturbing emotion hangs around for a longer time, consider talking to a counselor or your doctor.

You aren’t alone – we’re all dealing with chronic stress

It’s easy to get caught up in your own troubled feelings without taking a look at the bigger picture. It’s not just you feeling stressed. Remember that the entire world is still dealing with the long-term effects of this pandemic, and others feel much like you. It’s understandable to feel strange, disconnected, or overwhelmed during the holidays this year.

Prioritize Mental Health During the Holiday Season

The holidays are here again! Like last year, we’re trying to understand how the pandemic and the holiday gatherings fit together. The picture looks a little different from 2020, but it’s not quite normal either. Be sure to look after your mental health as we wrap up the year. No matter what your plans or how things have changed during the year, put your mental health needs at the top of your holiday list.

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