10 Tips for Good Mental Health during the Holidays

The Exceptional Advocate - MilitaryOneSource Newsletter

The holidays are supposed to be a time for fun, but for those caring for a family member with special needs, stress can sometimes derail us. Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help keep you on track. Follow these 10 practical tips to experience the holidays in a more positive and healthy way.

1. Keep your expectations realistic. Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. If you’re comparing your holidays to some ideal, you may be disappointed. So don’t stress about holiday spirit — take the holidays as they come.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you don’t have time to decorate the front porch, send out greeting cards or bake cookies for your coworkers, so be it. Worrying about little things will not improve your holiday spirit.

3. Plan to avoid problems. Think about what people or situations trigger holiday anxiety and figure out how to minimize them. If spending the weekend at your parents’ house upsets you, plan a shorter visit. If cooking for a houseful of relatives is overwhelming, hold a potluck meal instead. Prioritize events and activities you really want to attend, and don’t feel like you have to cram it all in.

4. Bridge the deployment gap. If your spouse is deployed during the holidays, here are some ideas to help bring you closer:

Do a live video chat of holiday activities, such as opening presents or family gatherings

Upload holiday photos, videos and greetings to social media sites

Arrange to do something “together,” such as watching your favorite holiday movie at the same time

Create a holiday scrapbook to send

Get together with other military spouses — who know how you’re feeling - for a party or holiday meal

Have your children make a holiday craft to send

5. Don’t fret over gifts. If you’re already feeling stretched, driving from store to store to find the perfect present may not be worth it. Gift certificates are a great time and stress saver. Other gift-giving ideas:

Save yourself time and stress — shop online

Overspending can make you feel anxious and out of control, so draw up a gift budget before you start shopping and stick to it.

Instead of buying everyone a present, start a family gift exchange

Give homemade gifts

6. Exercise. Make time to exercise, as it produces a strong anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect. If you can’t work out, try adding activity to your holiday routine, such as parking farther out in the store lot or taking a few extra laps around the mall.

7. Eat and drink sensibly. The holidays can be a time for indulging, but healthy eating can help you feel better physically and emotionally. Before going to a party, eat a healthy snack to curb your appetite. Set a limit on cookies and dessert. Also, be aware of how much you drink: alcohol is a depressant and overdoing it will leave you feeling worse.

8. Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Holidays may remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore. The holidays can be a nice time to celebrate their memory. Bake a cake using mom’s recipe or make a toast to grandpa.

9. Ask for help. Don’t pile on stress by trying to do everything yourself. Ask your spouse to handle decorating this year. Get the kids involved in cleaning. See if your sister will help you shop. People may be willing to help, but you need to tell them you need some help.

10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling sad or anxious, unable to sleep, irritable and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings continue, get help. Free, confidential non-medical counseling and specialty consultations are available to service members and their families. Call 800-342-9647 or visit Military OneSource to learn more.