5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health from Holiday Stress


The holiday season may include festivities with friends and family for some, while for others, it may be the most isolating or demanding time of the year. As a Lambda Schools student, you may be experiencing feelings of stress regarding your coursework or anxiety about beginning the job search in 2020. Regardless of your personal circumstances, common feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety during the season may influence your mental, social, and physical health. 

Before you dive head first into the holidays this year, consider your seasonal track record. How do holidays typically go for you? If you anticipate a forthcoming emotional rollercoaster, you may be better prepared with coping strategies that work for you. 

Below are five protective factors to keep you mentally strong as you navigate the holidays. 

Accept your feelings and get support

Face it – you can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holidays and every commercial you see on TV is insisting that you feel Christmas cheer. Instead, get familiar with your feelings. Acknowledge what you feel about your family and their dynamics. Consider who you might interact with during the holiday season, and allow yourself to feel sadness and grief for those who have passed or from whom you may be estranged. Remember that packing your schedule with family events or being isolated from them can be overwhelming, depending on your circumstances. Lambda can help you establish healthy coping strategies and, through your Modern Health App, can provide therapeutic professionals and coaches to prepare you and help get you through it. Consider this – you would not try to solve a tooth ache on your own, so why not reach out for support? Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Access a professional for support today and maintain that support through the season. 

Maintain routines

The demands of the season will vary greatly from person to person. For some, holiday festivities may require travel, social gatherings, and other obligations that may alter your normal routine. For others, the slower pace of school/work or the lack of engagement with others over the holiday season may create more free time but may enhance feelings of isolation. Thus, it is important to maintain healthy habits throughout the holiday season that will keep both your body and mind well. Here are three routines to keep you on track:

  1. Get enough sleep. Try for 8 hours and keep bed and wake times similar to what you are used to. This will ease the transition back after the holidays and will maximize the healthy rest your brain and body need to function at its best. 
  1. Incorporate regular physical activity into each day. Make a plan to move your body each day. Some days this may be the physical break you need. Other days this may be the mental break you need. Some days it may be both. Make your intentions known to family members in order to keep yourself on track. 
  1. Set boundaries by saying NO. Plan now to say no to two obligations each holiday season. Give yourself permission to prioritize what is important to you.    

Choose healthy coping strategies 

The holidays can be a triggering time for feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression and yet can also be filled with opportunities for unhealthy coping by way of substance use, overeating, and compulsive shopping, just to name a few. Here are a few other coping strategies to consider.

  1. Avoid drugs and alcohol. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends avoiding drugs and alcohol for comfort, citing that there is a 20% overlap between people with anxiety and mood disorders and substance use disorders. This means substances can exacerbate symptoms. 
  1. Practice mindfulness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends using strategies such as mindfulness to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety and build resiliency and recommend this Mindfulness Toolkit from the USC online MSW program. If mindfulness or meditation is not your thing, consider listening to 15 minutes of calming music. Your Modern Health benefits also include access to free guided meditations to help you stay mindful.
  1. Take a walk, preferably in nature on a sunny day. It can lower your blood pressure and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression by releasing serotonin and endorphins. As an added bonus, a boost of Vitamin D from the sun will lower inflammation and give you added energy, increased immunity, and improved mood. Additionally, exposure to the sun during the winter months can ease symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern, formally known as seasonal affective disorder. 

Pro trip: Traveling for the holidays will make you more susceptible to illness. Protect your holistic health with good food, rest, and lots of water. 

Manage your expectations

When it comes to holidays, setting realistic expectations are key. This may mean communicating your needs to family members in advance, accepting that the holidays may not turn out the way you wish them to be, or practicing self-acceptance by giving yourself grace about where you are on the path of your own journey. 

If the actions and behaviors of others may pose a challenge to your mental wellbeing, do what you need to do to keep yourself safe, set boundaries, and walk away if needed, but know some people will not change and some perspectives will not shift. Prepare in advance to set aside your differences and instead of focusing on what divides you, focus on what brings you together as family and friends. 

Change your perspective

Finally, the holiday season is filled with traditions where people in every community gather with loved ones to focus on what actually matters. It’s not presents or pictures or a clean house – it’s the love you find in gratitude. And gratitude lowers stress. Consider ways to practice gratitude during the holiday season as a protective factor in lowering feelings of anxiety and depression with an added bonus of building community and giving back. You deserve a healthy mind, body, spirit, career, and life, and Lambda School is here to help. 

Give yourself the gift of improved mental health this holiday season by taking advantage of your Modern Health benefits.

Schedule a session with your therapist or coach, or establish a new routine of taking time for yourself through Modern Health’s in-app guided meditations. To get started, download the Modern Health app and login using the normal signup process – being sure to use the same email address to register that we have on file for you as a staff member or student of Lambda. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can login using their web interface.

If you have any issues logging in, please reach out to /frontdesk with the subject “Modern Health Login.” You can also learn more about your Modern Health benefits by checking out Lambda’s Modern Health FAQ.

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