Couple drinking hot chocolate near fireplace

Strike a Healthy Balance: Caring for Your Mental Health During the Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing! As the saying goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” right?

Family with small daughterThe holidays can be a chance to catch up with loved ones, eat traditional holiday foods and connect with people you care about, but intertwined with all the good there can be additional stress. Between the high expectations we put on ourselves and others, the months of planning and preparation, the large family gatherings and the noisy parties, the stress of the holidays can get overwhelming, especially if you are struggling to manage your post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you are worried about the upcoming holidays and your PTSD, check out the following suggestions.

10 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

  1. Be proactive. Reach out to your family and friends before the holidays get busy. Talk about how you’re feeling, what your triggers are and how they can support you during the holidays. Oftentimes, people just don’t know, and your guidance will be helpful as they navigate the season as well.
  2. Set limits. It’s OK not to do everything on the schedule. Pick and choose the activities that are best for how you’re feeling. For example, if large crowds are too much, maybe you can skip the big party and suggest a smaller, quieter gathering at a later date.
  3. Have a plan. Large crowds and loud noises can trigger feelings of hypervigilance and alertness that can be very stressful. Think about your stressors and what you can do if you get overwhelmed. Is there a place you can go when you feel this way? Is there someone you can call?Man on a lake dock practicing yoga
  4. Take care of yourself and maintain your normal routine during the holidays. Holidays often get busy, so make sure you find time to get enough sleep, eat well and do activities you love. If you lift weights, continue to do so. If you take a daily walk, don’t stop. Whatever makes you feel good is important to keep doing. This normalcy will help you handle additional stress better.
  5. Practice different techniques to help you calm down. When you are overwhelmed, what helps you work through it? Do you like to take a few minutes alone? Do you have a breathing technique you can use to help you relax? Practicing what techniques you can use may be easier than trying to figure it out in the moment.
  6. Be honest. If there are things about your service, your experiences or any other aspect of your life that you aren’t ready to discuss, say so. You can politely let people know that you appreciate their concerns or questions, but you’d rather not talk about certain things right now.
  7. Keep doing things that help. Don’t stop attending meetings, counseling sessions or peer support groups just because it’s the holiday season. If it’s not those things, maybe it’s a hobby that gives you peace. Find ways to keep those helpful things in your schedule.
  8. Pay attention to your alcohol consumption. Holiday parties are often filled with drinks and toasts. You may think a few drinks can help you relax and handle the holidays easier, but drinking too much can often make it hard to control your emotions. If you have stopped drinking or don’t drink, consider telling family and friends ahead of time, so you aren’t constantly being asked if you want something. Connecting the Dots: PTSD, Alcohol Use and the Support You Need provides additional information on this.Family during the holidays
  9. Try to have a positive outlook. It’s true that things may be different this holiday season—you may not feel yourself, you may wish you could go back in time or maybe you’ve recently suffered a divorce or a loss, but if you dwell too much, you may miss a chance to create new memories, have a laugh and feel connected again.
  10. Take advantage of the programs and resources available to help. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and many other organizations have resources designed to help with mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety and more. Check out the resources below to get the support you deserve to make this holiday season a good one. 

Helpful Resources

You deserve a happy and healthy holiday season. Take care of yourself and prioritize your mental health!

For Veterans, who have relied so much on their own strength and toughness, it is common to think you should be able to handle everything on your own, that it is somehow a sign of weakness to ask for help. But getting help for mental health conditions takes courage and strength. Let people who have experience dealing with these tough emotions help.

You deserve a happy and healthy holiday season. Take care of yourself and prioritize your mental health!

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