Mental Health During the Holidays

It is often described as the most wonderful time of the year. Still, the holiday season can be stressful or emotional for many. When the simple joys like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate by the fire or watching old holiday movies are overrun by hustle, bustle, and too many expectations, there are ways parents can get back to the basics of holiday cheer. We asked a local Black Hills expert for tips to support your mental health during the holidays this year.

Be present

Silver See, Marriage and Family Therapist Supervisee with Rapid City Counseling, Inc., says much of the pressure parents feel during the holidays are brought on by overcomplicating plans or over-scheduling.

“Children truly enjoy simple, engaging activities,” she says. 

She encourages parents to be conscious about adding unnecessary layers of stress, which can cause them to miss out on what could be fun and spontaneous. Make time to play in the snow, read stories, and make new holiday traditions.

See says meditation skills can help with being present in the moment. People have a natural tendency to be distracted and pulled away by other thoughts.

“We can train our minds to continue to return to the present moment, which is the only place we can truly experience joy during this time,” she says. 

Manage social expectations

Sometimes expectations to attend each and every holiday gathering can be a stressor in itself. Being honest and setting limits on the number of holiday gatherings the family will attend, or the amount of travel incorporated into the season helps create space for simple holiday traditions while improving your mental health during the holidays. 

“If we do things out of obligation, people can feel this and there can be a lack of genuine connection while together,” See says.

The holidays can be a challenging time for those who miss loved ones who have passed away or are otherwise unavailable. Families might have stressed relationships that can become more problematic during the holidays. 

See says it is important to focus on areas within our control when it comes to strained relationships.

Being in touch with our bodily response is the first step toward awareness,” See says. “Asking for help from loved ones when needed will also help our stress response.”

Make a holiday budget

Planning ahead with a budget for everyone on the holiday shopping list can help prevent overspending. See suggests getting creative with do-it-yourself gifts, which can also turn into a fun project with children. Start holiday shopping before Thanksgiving to help ease the pressure before Christmas. No matter when you go, make a list and stick to it.

When choosing a gift for a loved one, try thinking about the experience they will have when they open the gift.

“Doing this helps us to give that gift from a place of joy as opposed to feeling pressured to find the perfect gift and being out of touch with our heart,” See says. 

Prioritize self-care

Self-care is especially critical during busy times. Parents can model what self-care looks like to their children, teaching them to prioritize self-care for themselves. Scheduling time within a busy day to exercise, meditate, read, or engage in other positive hobbies is important for mental health during the holidays.

“Scheduling time for ourselves is the only way to ensure it happens regardless of outside occurrences,” See says. “Self-care enables us to be better parents when we are allowed to be rejuvenated instead of depleted.” 

Additionally, Black Hills weather turns colder and days become much shorter as the holiday season arrives. See says Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can definitely come into play during this time. 

“Paying attention to our nutritional needs, staying active, being with our loved ones, and putting our mental health as a top priority can serve us even more during these months,” See says.

Holiday pressure impacts your mental health

There is a reason the holidays are described with phrases like “hustle and bustle,” but it does not have to be that way.

“Pressure to never stop during the holidays has been ingrained in us, unfortunately, and the pressure can become very apparent,” See says. “We can become easily stressed with all the commitments while missing the simple moments in the meantime and slowing down.”

Being aware of the importance of small moments and scheduling time wisely can help ease stress and make it possible to create happy holiday memories to cherish for years to come.

Feeling the pressure? Learn more about how to manage family burnout.

Pre-Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Life can be very difficult, and my main focus is to help you navigate these difficulties and use each one of them as an opportunity to grow first in your relationship to yourself and then in your relationship with others. My goal is to help you receive measurable improvements quickly utilizing elements from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), Solution-Focused Therapy, Mindfulness, Self-Compassion, Positive Psychology, EMDR, Emotional Freedom Technique, Somatic therapy techniques, and more.