For many people, the holiday season is far from happy. Not many people come from fairy tale families, and others are isolated and lonely, feeling they don’t have anyone who truly cares about them around.
Add to this the number of people struggling with mental health problems like depression and anxiety, and the expectations of the season become even more difficult to manage. Whichever of these groups you fall within, I offer a few suggestions below to help make this holiday season a hopefully happier, or at a minimum easier, one.
1. Take time to connect.
Social connections are good for your mental health. Share the important moments and stories of your year. Ask questions and create space to really listen and understand the people you are with. You might be surprised by what you hear.
2. Take a break from social media, and perhaps from technology in general.
The last 20 years have seen a fundamental decline in the quality of interpersonal relationships as we have moved too much of our lives onto online platforms. Put away your phone, stay off technology when you are with friends or family and spend time in the physical world. If you feel bored, don’t reach for your phone and distraction: talk to someone, go for a walk, or just sit with the feeling.
3. Think about who you are connecting with this holiday season.
Not all social connections are good for your mental health. You know what the people around you are really like, who is going to be supportive and who will just drag you down further. Don’t be afraid to let this guide whom you spend meaningful time with, and as importantly, with whom you don’t.
4. Discover what it is truly you want to do for the holidays.
Holidays don’t mean the same thing to everyone. If you are uncertain, spend some time reflecting on what is important to you at this time of year. How can you express your values, what will be meaningful, what is your way of acknowledging the end of the year, and of nurturing your relationships? If your thing is to cherish others through food, embrace this, be the family cook and throw yourself into it with all your passion. If it is to be the entertainer, be so, tell stories and do so with enthusiasm.
Whatever it is, ensure it is what is true of you.
5. Make sure you find a way to reset and recharge.
For some this will come through social reconnection but certainly not everyone. Others may need to be in nature or at least outside somewhere pleasant: if this is you make the effort to do so. Bring along someone who you really want to be with, or not, choose what you need to do.
Paul Fitzgerald, PhD, MBBS is director of the School of Medicine and Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and the author of Curing Stubborn Depression.