Managing Your Mental Health This Winter Season
Though the holidays are something to look forward to and celebrate for many, this time leading up to the new year can also bring about several sources of stress. From family gatherings to holiday obligations to New Year’s resolutions, the winter season can often lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression.
When submerged in the constant buzz of the holidays, it can be difficult to find ways to break from activities that you do not enjoy and address the overwhelming feelings you may be experiencing. Here are some tips to help in fighting the winter blues.
Navigating Winter Gatherings
Holiday gatherings, especially when it comes to complicated family dynamics, can be difficult to manage. For those who have tumultuous relationships with their family, this time of year can be especially hard on mental health. There may be discussions about past mistakes, politics, future ambitions, and other anxiety-producing topics and tensions can arise in ways that only induce more stress.
In these situations, setting boundaries can be extremely useful. This may mean staying at home for the holidays, choosing to not discuss certain topics that are overwhelming for you, or spending less time interacting with difficult relatives. Planning ahead can also play a crucial part in avoiding or reducing stress. Knowing the people, conversations, or situations that trigger your stress or anxiety and preparing several coping skills (deep breathing, taking a moment to yourself in the bathroom, calling a friend, etc.) ahead of time may give you an increased sense of control over the situation as well as decreasing potential sources of stress. Navigating complicated family situations may be hard, but you are only in control of your own behavior and reactions, so don’t expect others to change. Rather practice acceptance, and take steps to prioritize your own needs.
In 2020, winter gatherings also have another layer that can contribute to a sense of loneliness or stress – COVID-19. The pandemic calls for socially-distanced holiday celebrations, so while many of us may not be able to gather in person. Using video conferencing tools like Zoom or FaceTime may allow your family and friends to feel a sense of togetherness while keeping everyone safe. Remember – you don’t have to commit to everything you are invited to, especially if you don’t feel mentally or physically safe in those spaces. Gathering virtually throughout the winter may not be the same, but remind yourself that this is temporary – we will make it through!
Addressing Feelings of Loneliness
Along with the presents, family get-togethers, and nostalgia that often accompanies the holiday season, there may also come unhappy memories, toxic relatives, and isolation — especially in the time of COVID-19. For those who may be battling feelings of depression and loneliness as we build to the new year, it is important to take steps to prioritize your mental health.
If you are feeling lonely or deprived of your usual social interactions during the holidays, check-in and celebrate with your loved ones through video calls, care packages, or socially distanced get-togethers. Moreover, focusing on having meaningful conversations with your social connections during this time of year can be helpful.
It can feel difficult to be fully present as you are conversing with your friends and family, but asking questions that allow others to talk more deeply about themselves may allow for more fulfilling connections and decreased feelings of loneliness. It is so important to not ignore these feelings of isolation, but rather to treat them in the ways available to you. This may include regular calls, video chats, texts, emails, or meeting up with loved ones for socially-distanced activities.
Finding Joy Throughout The Holidays
It can be easy to fall into a routine of only focusing on the negative aspects of this time of year. Still, finding joy in novel places and being intentional with your holiday activities may be helpful in easing feelings of depression and sadness. Practicing intentional gratitude is often a good place to start. Try writing down or repeating to yourself what you’re grateful for every morning (whether that be your family, a yummy meal, your furry friend, or anything else that you feel especially fortunate for that day).
Taking time to intentionally focus on the good in your life may help shift your focus from thoughts that are bringing you down. Moreover, sending that gratitude out into the world can bring back a sense of joy and fulfillment. If you have the means, consider donating to a nonprofit organization that you connect with or volunteering (in person or online) for an organization that aims to help those who may not have as much this winter season.
As for day-to-day tokens of happiness, when you find yourself ruminating on sad memories, long to-do lists, or anxiety-producing future events, look to small things that bring you joy. It could be as simple as a funny video, a sweet text from a friend, or a fond memory captured in a photograph – the little things can provide us with a temporary escape from the craziness of the holiday season.
Lessening Stress For The New Year
Stress around the holidays can become overwhelming, but one resolution you might consider is taking steps to lessen your anxiety and change your winter routine. Though it may be hard to focus on your health when you are feeling overwhelmed, your mental and physical well-being are of utmost importance. In other words, put yourself first!
This means getting enough sleep (seven to nine hours, though it may be hard), avoiding excessive drinking that may cluster in the winter season, eating warm (and delicious) meals, getting outside (if possible), and trying to incorporate physical activity as part of your daily routine. These changes don’t have to happen overnight – ease into a routine that brings you stability and focuses on activities that lessen your stress instead of adding to it.
For those holiday events and traditions that you feel obligated to partake in and yet only end up increasing your levels of stress, take a step back and ask yourself, “Do I really have to do this?” If you feel that the event isn’t necessary and will only add to your anxiety, take some control over your plans and cross a few things off your calendar. If traditions and pre-set plans are no longer making you happy, it’s time to make a change.
For when you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or panicky in the moment, however trivial it may seem, take a few deep breaths. During the holidays it can be hard to physically excuse yourself, so focusing on your breathing – something you can control – can be helpful in lessening the effects of stress and anxiety. And remember, if you are still feeling depressed or anxious, and these feelings extend beyond the whirlwind of the holiday season, consider reaching out for professional help.
The blog post was written by CWT intern, Maddie Susi.
California Women’s Therapy is currently accepting new clients for virtual psychotherapy, couple’s counseling, and postpartum mental health support. Learn more at www.CaliforniaWomensTherapy.com