The holiday season is officially upon us! Christmas lights are popping up left and right, Jingle Bells and other holiday classics are playing on a loop, there’s a lightness in our typically heavy Florida air, and the kids (or at least mine) are regularly adding requests to their Christmas wish lists. It truly is the most magical time of the year.

Then why do I often feel so drained during the holiday season?

Between the financial strain, unrealistic expectations, busy schedules and unhealthy eating that come along with the holidays, it’s not uncommon for moms to end up feeling exhausted, depleted and even depressed and anxious instead of fulfilled and rejuvenated for the new year. What can we do to protect our health – both physical and mental – so that the holidays become a time to savor and enjoy instead of a time to just survive?

Evaluate Your Traditions and Commitments 

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed my tendency to pile on as many traditions as possible for our family. Not only have I tried to maintain the holiday traditions of my childhood as well as my husband’s, I’ve tried to incorporate new ideas I’ve seen from friends or on social media. The intentions are, of course, to create the most magical, memorable holiday season for my kids possible. Unfortunately, in practice, it has at times created more of a regimented holiday checklist. I’ve crammed in light shows and gingerbread houses and reading Christmas stories at times that my kids didn’t really want, which never ends well. My well intentioned yet jam packed holiday schedule has left us all feeling drained and not quite so jolly.

Take some time to evaluate your holiday plans and traditions. Do they leave you feeling fulfilled, grateful and in the holiday spirit? Or cranky, exhausted and maybe even irritated with yourself or your kids? Are your traditions and activities being held onto because your family truly enjoys them, or because you feel like they’re what you’re “supposed” to do? Is your calendar so packed that you won’t have time to rest and enjoy your family? Remember – it’s ok to say no to things if it means saying yes to your mental health. Allow your holiday traditions and commitments to serve and bond your family instead of taking something away from your holiday season.

Maintain Routine

With the barrage of special activities, late night holiday programs, kids out of school, travel and so on, there are constant opportunities to get out of our daily routines during the holidays. While a break in the normal schedule can provide an opportunity for rest, it can also be an opportunity for depressive and anxiety symptoms to make a sneak attack. When it’s feasible, maintain some structure and routine in your daily life. This could mean leaving a party early to get to bed at a normal time, squeezing in a workout before your kids’ holiday program at school, or keeping appointments with a therapist or healthcare provider despite a busy schedule. Whatever it looks like for you, don’t let the chaos of the holiday turn your routine into chaos as well.

Put Your Physical Health First

I don’t find it a coincidence that New Year’s Resolutions come immediately after the holiday season. So frequently, we leave December feeling drained, physically ill, overweight and generally unhealthy. The holidays seem to bring the potential for more unhealthy choices than the rest of the year. However, maintaining your mental health is largely dependent on your physical health and how you feel about your body.

Whatever positive choices you’re making already – keep them up! When you indulge during a holiday meal – because we ALL do – enjoy it and then return to your normal eating habits the next day. It’s easy to let one unhealthy meal snowball into an unhealthy day or even few weeks or months. If you have an exercise routine, don’t let it slide. Keep up your walking, yoga, home fitness videos or gym classes. After all, exercise is one of the most well researched protective factors against depression and anxiety. If you start to feel sick or run down, cancel some plans to rest. Don’t leave this holiday season feeling like you got run over by a sleigh.

Give Yourself Some Grace

Whether suffering from a mood or anxiety disorder or not, the holidays can be plain hard. They can trigger past hurts and losses, especially if a loved one is absent or a family structure has changed. Many people have to face difficult family situations and conflicts that may be avoided the rest of the year. The holidays can cause financial stress and budget concerns. They can cause feelings of being overwhelmed, or of unmet expectations. Whatever the reason, the holiday season can be a time of increased stress and subsequently, increased struggle with depressive symptoms and anxiety.

If you start to feel down or anxious, focus on the positive coping skills listed above instead of beating yourself up. It’s not only ok to put yourself first, it’s necessary. Gift yourself by not only paying attention to your needs, but by meeting them to the best of your ability. Caring for yourself will allow you to not only care for others, but to walk out of the holiday season feeling accomplished and excited to face whatever 2019 has in store.

Please join us on Monday, December 3rd at 6:30pm at Breath of Life Birth Center to continue this discussion on self-care during the holiday season.