11:33 AM

Create a Holiday Season that Supports Your Mental Health and Well-Being

By Michael R. Bütz, Ph.D. 

The holiday season brings excitement and feelings about national and religious holidays and the worldwide celebration of welcoming a New Year. There is a magical sense of things at this time of year with festivals, gatherings, and fairy dust that everything will be okay, and that oversights, shortcomings, and unpleasant realities will work out. 

But the prevailing images and notions of the holiday season may not be the same for everyone, or, in reality, for most of us. There are many different religious and cultural traditions, others have experienced personal tragedies, and some may have family or personal challenges that keep them physically or emotionally distant from family members and loved ones. 

We feel the pressure from cultural and societal forces to be cheerful and happy, and purchase everything in sight, reinforcing these idealistic images of what the ‘holiday experience’ should look like. Unfortunately, this pressure can lead to real impacts on our mental health. 

I certainly don’t want to bring the message of ‘bah humbug’ this season, but instead, I want to encourage everyone to be mindful and think through the holiday season. To assess what you want from this time of year so that it may be enjoyed and shared, no matter how our everyday realities match an idealized version of the coming weeks. So, here are a few suggestions we can all put into practice this holiday season. 

  1. Think through what the holiday season means to you, and what it means for others close to you (family, friends and coworkers.) What would you like this time of the year to be for you? How will you make this season your own? 
  2. Take stock. Was there a difficult time in your past around the holidays that still impacts you or others? How might you navigate it authentically? 
  3. Make plans to be with who you want to be with, where you feel loved and supported. There’s a lot about “what’s supposed to be” during this season, but that may not be realistic. So how do you ensure spending time with those who love and support you? 
  4. Put together a budget and stick to it. There’s a lot of financial pressure at this time of year, and there is a misconception that gifts and giving will make us whole. That’s not true and may cause us to overspend and create worries. 
  5. Everything in moderation. Folks tend to overeat and drink too much. I’d suggest thinking about meal planning and being clear about alcohol consumption. Don’t drink and drive; avoid conflicts and difficult discussions if intoxicated. 
  6. Management of your and your family’s schedule. The structure of our days tends to crumble at this time of year. School is out, there are celebrations and parties, and travel. Especially for younger children, try to make this manageable and come up with a reasonable daily and weekly schedule. Your kids will thank you for it. The same applies to travel plans. 
  7. Practice patience and kindness with everyone you encounter this time of year. None of us know what others are going through, given the pressures and expectations of the holiday season. So, patience and kindness with one another are of the utmost importance. 

Finally, if you or someone you know is struggling this holiday season, consider how to bring, or receive, support and professional help if needed. I hope these suggestions will be taken to heart and may improve your experience this holiday season! 

Michael Bütz, PhD, is a clinical and neuropsychologist with SCL Health Medical Group - Billings Behavioral Health, part of Intermountain Healthcare.