Prioritizing Mental Health Throughout the Holidays

December 22, 2016

The holidays can be some of the most intense, mental-button-pushing time of the year. We’re stretched thin financially, time seems to be at a great shortage, and most of us are dealing with family stresses, travel, or bad holiday memories. It can be a minefield of emotions, to be sure, and mental health can take a back seat.

One in five people in the United States are living with a mental health condition. It’s most likely more than that due to the fact that most of us who live with these conditions never report them. This number is being repeated so you know that you most certainly are not alone, and that there are a great many of us who need to take special precautions during the holidays to care for our conditions:

Take your medications – If you’re on medications, don’t get distracted or neglectful. Consistent buildup of the medication is what renders it effective, so maintaining regular dosage is crucial to reap the rewards. If you’re new to medication therapy, do whatever you must to stay in a regular, consistent groove: set reminders on your calendar, alarms on your phone, etc.

Get enough sleep – The holidays can be tempting with late-night parties and events, but be mindful that the mind needs rest to regenerate and stabilize. Nothing can throw mental health out of whack like a night or two off your sleep regimen. Stay rested.

Heed your doctor’s orders – Only you and your medical expert know what your diagnosis is, and outside of a close loved one or two, you’re going to have to be the one to stay on top of it. Be diligent and follow directions. It will make for a healthy holiday and will likely prevent unnecessary episodes that could derail progress. Speaking of which…

Avoid excessive caffeine or mood-altering substances – Holiday parties are known for excessive alcohol abuse, but are also rife with other mood-altering substances such as drugs and caffeine. Anything that throws your body chemistry out of kilter can also throw your brain chemistry into a tailspin. Follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to alcohol, and remember not to self-medicate.

Get some exercise – A brisk walk before a big holiday meal, an exercise class with a friend, or a solitary run or yoga class are all great ways to keep your serotonin levels up during the holidays. Studies have shown that exercise is a key factor in good mental health, and it’s always a good idea to manage your body properly during times of stress.

Go easy on holiday delights – One of the great joys of the holidays are the amazing fat-and-sugar-laden foods, which can taste great going down but not so great afterwards. Small amounts of rich foods are totally fine, but remember the body and the brain are linked, and anything that can cause a “food coma” can also mess with your mood. Enjoy responsibly.

Take care of yourself – Sometimes, family and festive situations can really push our buttons and push us to the limits of our mental health. Where necessary, remember that your health is important, and if you need to excuse yourself, please do. Get rest, get some space, call a friend, meditate – whatever you need to do to keep yourself well, do it.