By Kelli Falconberry
Your mental health has always mattered, but this year has put a real emphasis on taking care of ourselves as we navigate, well, everything that has happened since March 2020. And now, ready or not, here they are, the holidays are upon us to throw a little gingerbread spice on our pandemic anxiety. If the condition of your mental health is a little Grinchy this season, that’s understandable. It’s been a tough time for many, and survival is the new M.O.
Though you may want to shut it all down and hibernate at the top of a hill away from everything and everyone until the new year, it’s better for your mental health if you find ways to cope with the holiday season. Here are a few simple ways to help you take care of your heart that maybe feels two sizes too small right now.
Make a self-care list, and check it twice. You can’t always predict when loneliness, depression or anxiety will hit you hardest, but you can anticipate that it will happen sometime. It can be tough to figure out what you might need in the exact moment of overwhelm.
List it all, from the most basic—brushing your teeth—to your most favorite feel-good things—making tea and watching a movie under a cozy blanket. Keep that list somewhere handy, like on your phone or in your wallet, so you’ll have access to it when you need it most.
Stay connected as best you can. You’ve probably noticed that the weather has changed, and that makes it all the more challenging to stay connected with your loved ones as you spend more time indoors. Isolation will do a number on your mental health, so maintaining your relationships with loved ones is more critical than you may realize.
Of course, you still have phone calls, video chat and texting. All of that will do in a pinch, but something about in-person hangouts just feels more connected, so why not take it outdoors? It will be just like your summertime socially distanced gatherings, but with more coats, blankets and fire to help you retain your heat.
But also set boundaries. The holidays can feel like a giant pressure cooker, especially when getting together with family or friends. Or perhaps you feel the need to spend a certain amount on gifts. Maybe an organization is asking you to bake cookies for their year-end bake sale fundraiser. It may feel like the air is closing in all around you, but remember that you are in charge of this Instant Pot, and you set the cooking time and the amount of pressure you’ll allow.
If you can’t get out of a family gathering, limit the amount of time you’re there, wear a mask and tell Granny that you love her so much that you’re not going to hug her. Set a budget, and stick with it, or let people know that you’re forgoing gifts this year. Tell the bake sale people that you’ll be happy to help another time, but now isn’t good for you.
Taking care of your mental health takes a little planning and sometimes causes hurt feelings, so understandably, it doesn’t feel very easy. Saying “no” to people you care about can be hard, especially if they’re not used to it—yet.
The work doesn’t always feel good in the moment, but remember that you’re playing the long game. So, make your self-care list, bundle up with your friends outside and minimize the holiday pressure as best you can. Before you know it, you’ll see your heart grow three sizes this year.