With the Christmas season finally arriving, everyone has gone into a festive mood. But aside from happiness, the holidays can also bring about a lot of conflicting emotions, like a feeling of overwhelmedness due to the many activities happening simultaneously and even trauma due to unpleasant experiences from previous Christmases. And in the Catholic-dominated Philippines where Christmas is the biggest and most joyous celebration of the year, there’s also that added pressure from societal expectations surrounding the holiday.
With all that happening, your own mental well-being can fall by the wayside, which is why mental health systems Mind You sat down with some of their psychologists to ask for tips on taking care of your mental health during the holiday season.
Make a list and check it twice
“Create your own Christmas agenda to be able to manage time for your family, for your friends, and for yourself. Outlining your boundaries and thinking about what will make you happy this Christmas would help your mental health state,” Mind You senior psychologist Rea Celine Villa shares.
She also advises making time for things you enjoy. It is the season of giving, after all. “Don’t forget to make time to do something you enjoy like watching a film, having coffee with friends, or eating out with family members this Christmas season.”
Create a holiday playlist
According to studies, music releases dopamine in the brain. That’s the so-called feel-good chemical. “Listening to music can reduce tendencies for depression and stress, improve our mood, and help us to sleep better,” Villa says. It’s also a way to get into the holiday spirit!
Go outdoors and get sunlight
After working at your desk all year long, this is the time to get some sunlight in your system. “Getting enough sunlight will help lessen depressive symptoms because of the induced serotonin level we can get from the sun,” says Mind You psychologist Ivana Maron. You can go on a walk or a jog with your pets, and maybe you can go on a picnic with your loved ones. Or if that’s not up your alley, you can just sit by a window with a lot of sun.
Organize manageable social activities
Maron advises you to do that for both the indoors and the outdoors. “This would be the best time to enjoy the holidays since almost everyone is on vacation, too.”
Some suggested activities she lists are: general cleaning with the family (which can serve as a preparation for New Year, too), having coffee or tea with friends and family members, board games, cooking and baking with the kids, playing with your pets, and simple chit-chatting with the loved ones while watching a movie (this can be virtual too), and so on.
Catch up on sleep
Everyone probably already has this on their to-do list this holiday season, but it doesn’t hurt to include it as a reminder. “This time of the year, it might be a good time to get some more sleep because of the warm and humid ambiance,” suggests Maron. This season is a rare time off for everyone, so you can set aside some time to recharge yourself.
Practice self-soothing techniques
When you find yourself overwhelmed, you can turn to self-soothing techniques that can help calm your mind. According to Mind You psychologist Sarah Macaraeg, you can listen to music (sound), light a scented candle, use your favorite perfume, lotion, or soap (smell), decorate your space (sight), eat your favorite food (taste), or hug a loved one or a pet (touch/activity).
Aside from self-soothing techniques, when you find yourself overwhelmed, you can simply take a step back and establish clear boundaries for yourself. Meeting relatives and friends for the first time in a long while can bring out complex emotions in you, so if you need time for yourself, prioritize yourself and your mental health. Be kind to yourself and recognize your limits.
Manage your expectations
You don’t have to dive back into Christmas parties and socialization like you did before the pandemic. So you should set manageable expectations for yourself and those around you. Manage your time wisely and don’t try to cram too many activities during your holidays.
“Having realistic expectations is also important. We are still in the pandemic, which means we are still unlikely to spend holidays the way we would pre-pandemic, despite having fewer restrictions,” advises Macaraeg. “We practice mindfulness by accepting the situation as is, without judgment, and we participate in the experience we are having in the here and now. Practice gratitude in these moments — no thinking of the past or the future.”