How to protect your mental health this holiday season
Is this really the most wonderful time of the year? The head of the British Royal College of GPs Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that if Santa was her patient, she’d consider diagnosing him with alcoholism, work-related stress, gout, and sleep deprivation. What about the rest of us?
Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s had to suffer through a three course Christmas dinner beside a racist uncle, research shows that the holidays can present serious challenges to maintaining mental wellness. Read on for some of the most common mental traps of the season and how to avoid them.
Deck the halls with boughs of anxiety
It’s not all chocolate and tinsel. In a study by Greenberg Quinlan Roser, 38% of North Americans reported an increase in stress during the holidays. Lack of money, lack of time and commercialism are all strong triggers for anxiety at this time of year.
If you are feeling the holiday pressure, make sure you find some time for mindfulness. This doesn’t necessarily mean sitting on a stool and chanting “om” (although if this works for you om on, my friend). It could be as simple as taking five minutes in the morning to enjoy your coffee quietly, going for a walk with your family, or watching the slow burn of a candle.
‘Tis the season for emotional eating
Perhaps the easiest way to cope with the increased stress of the holidays is to turn to the treats overflowing on every table. During the holidays, a third of North Americans report comfort eating.
Here are a few signs the sugar cookies are getting to you:
- Your obsession with food is preventing you from doing other things.
- You’re eating when you’re not hungry.
- You’ve lost control over the amount you’re eating.
If you think this might be a problem for you, know that you’re not alone. Expanding your toolbox to include a few more coping strategies will help you cultivate health in both mind and body. Consider what feelings your eating helps you cope with. Is it anxiety, depression, stress, grief? What other activities could help you feel better? It will be different for each person. Maybe you love jamming on your guitar, going for a drive, or playing your favourite sport.
We’re not suggesting you have to have a sugar cookie-free holiday. But if your eating is getting out of control, consider giving an alternate coping strategy a try.
When Christmas gets a little too jolly
No, it’s not just your family. Almost a third of North Americans say they will drink more to relieve stress during the holidays. Enjoying a boozy eggnog every now and then isn’t inherently bad for you. But if you can’t control your cravings, that could be a sign of alcoholism. When we rely on alcohol regularly as a coping mechanism, it can become a cloaking device that hides our real problems.
The good news is that the antidote to addiction is connection—something that can be easier to find during the holidays. As you’re planning celebrations, think about the people you most want to spend time with and activities you could do together that don’t involve alcohol.
The psychology of gift-giving
Based on the sheer amount of cash laid down this holiday season ($792 per Canadian family), you’d certainly think that money can buy happiness. The reality is more nuanced.
Researchers interviewed both gift-givers and receivers and while givers expected an expensive item to result in increased appreciation, receivers reported no correlation between a gift’s price and their satisfaction.
To ensure gift-giving success, the process is pretty simple: ask them what they want. Research shows that people are more appreciative of gifts bought off their wish list.
Am I SAD?
The acronym sounds like a joke, but SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious condition that affects 2-3% of Canadians. For guys with SAD, their body is simply not wired to be happy during a certain season (most commonly winter). The condition lasts multiple months and can include physical symptoms like oversleeping, undersleeping, lack of appetite, low energy, forgetfulness, increased irritability, and a desire for isolation.
If you’re feeling down this winter, you don’t have to suffer in silence or wait until the spring. There is a wealth of research that shows counselling is an effective treatment for depression. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
While the holidays can be challenging for many reasons, there are also a number of positive aspects we can all look forward to. The majority of people report experiencing happiness, love, high spirits, extra energy, and connectedness at Christmastime.
From the whole team at Manifest, all the best of the season and happy new year to you and yours!