In my practice and on my website, I tend to focus on offering strategies and recommendations to parents for supporting the mental health of their adolescents and teens. However, in this article, I encourage you to turn your attention to yourself. Make your needs and self-care a priority during this time of year – so that you can be the best version of yourself for your family.

While it’s a wonderful season, the holidays can also be a challenging and overwhelming time for many people. And parents, frequently carry the brunt of added financial, family, social, time and work pressures.

According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, nearly nine out of 10 adults report that concerns such as “not having enough money, missing loved ones and anticipating family conflict cause them stress at this time of year.” Almost half of adults say they feel more stressed during the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year than any other time.

So, while most parents prioritize their children’s needs, ensuring that everyone is taken care of, they often ignore their own struggles. But the truth is that children are affected by the emotional well-being of their parents and are happiest when their parents are.  

Plus, managing your own stress and well-being is a great way to teach children, through example, how to take care of their mental health. By practicing self-care strategies, like getting enough rest and exercise, being kind to yourself, learning to say “no” and setting boundaries, you are modeling life skills for your children that will help them cope during challenging or stressful times in the future.

Holiday Self-Care Tips

So, this season, take the time to consider your needs and what you can do to take care of yourself. Here are some basic tips from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and others to help you cope during the holidays:

  • Try to focus on one thing at a time. Balance the hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking and family gatherings. Stop and pay attention to what is happening at the moment.
  • Try to keep household routines the same. If you can stick to regular meals and bedtimes, as much as possible, your entire family will feel better able to enjoy the holidays.
  • Ask for help. The list of to-dos can seem endless this time of year. Involve your family in the preparations. Often adolescents and teens embrace taking over some of the responsibilities and being part of making festivities happen.
  • Take a walk outside. Research shows being immersed in nature can help with mild depression and anxiety symptoms. Consider setting a reminder for yourself to get up and get out. This will help you stick to your plan to get some fresh air and will also help you maintain positive mental health throughout your day.
  • Connect with family or friends. The connection, support, love, and belonging that friends, family, and our communities bring to us are key to our well-being.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques, such as breathing exercises or guided meditation, can help manage stress and anxiety. Make time for mindful techniques, even just a few minutes of your day.  
  • Volunteer. There is extensive research about how helping others and participating in community organizations can provide an emotional boost. It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. Even an hour at your church or local soup kitchen can make a difference.
  • Sleep. Another critical piece to maintaining positive mental health is getting enough sleep. Set your sights on trying to sleep for however long you need to feel rested and recharged during the day.
  • Talk about it. Reach out and talk to someone if you are struggling. They may be able to share their strategies for getting through challenging times.
  • Eat right. Food can affect our mood. Avoid processed and sugary foods.
  • Exercise. Spend time each day to walk, run, bike, or whatever you can do to move your body.
  • Limit alcohol and other substance use. The holidays are often a time of overindulgence but think about how substances can alter your mood.
  • Practice gratitude. Being grateful for what you have, and the life around you, can promote positive thinking.
  • Take a day off from social media and the Internet.
  • Give yourself permission to say “no.” The business of the holidays can be overwhelming. Sometimes just saying no to plans or events can reduce your stress.
  • Set boundaries. People tend to feel pressure to spend a lot of money on gifts, attend certain events, or host extravagant gatherings. It’s okay to set limits on how much you spend on gifts or how much time you spend with family.
  • Take a mental health day from school, work, etc. Your mental health is as important as your physical health and you should treat it with the same consideration.

Most importantly, I would add: Be kind to yourself. Although you may envision the so-called “perfect” holiday gathering, dinner or gifts, keep in mind that “perfect” does not exist. Turn off the critical voices inside your head and try instead to focus on the moments of joy with family and loved ones.

Happy Holidays!

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