The holiday season is in full swing. As quickly as the holiday décor, music, and themed events swooped into our lives, so has the holiday pressure to socialize and spend more money than usual. This time of year, there are more family and friend gatherings, expectations, and often, disappointments. The pressure of it all could be quite overwhelming. In addition to all of that, this time of the year reminds us of the people we won’t be able to spend time with due to distance or loss.

While we are all busy trying to understand the feelings this time of the year brings, whether it’s happiness, sadness, joy, or sorrow, here are a few ways to help you manage your mental health during the holiday season:

  1. Think about your expectations (and be realistic). Think about who and what really matters to you during this time. Focus on the people that lift you up, support you, and encourage you. Of course, being around family and friends can sometimes lead to conflict. Be mindful of this in advance and have an exit strategy. You do not have to be in environments that trigger you or cause you to have overall poor mental wellbeing.
  2. Set financial and commitment boundaries. Do not overstep what you can fully handle. This includes setting limits for who you choose to be around, how much work you create for yourself, and deadlines that may be approaching. Create a holiday budget. Stick to what you can handle. If you don’t, it will lead to more stress and anxiety during and after the holiday season.
  3. Prioritize yourself and your upcoming new year goals. Self care during this season is extremely important. This is the perfect time to assess your mood and your year and set new goals for the upcoming year. Set aside time for reflection. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back as well.
  4. Be aware of your mental state. During this time, many people get the winter blues, or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is often referred to as seasonal depression. The days are shorter and the lists of things to do are longer. Limit screen time and social media interactions so you can truly focus on the people right in front of you and the present moments. Use this time to truly connect, or reconnect, with people, remain physically active, and practice mindfulness. Many people during this time choose to give their time to help others. Keep in mind, giving or doing something for others can be a great way to cheer yourself up.
  5. Focus on things you can control. Of course, there will be things that are out of your control. This happens all the time. However, use this season to practice patience and walk away from things that are not (or are no longer) serving you.

Other things to keep in mind include things to avoid during this holiday season. Know that it’s okay to refrain from discussing your personal life (school, work, dating, marriage, children, finances, or the lack thereof) with anyone that makes you feel uncomfortable. You do not have to answer or accept the expectations of other people. As such, be mindful of the expectations and/or assumptions that you have for other people. If appropriate, and with consent, you may discuss these topics, but never force the conversations. During the holidays, it is also common that controversial issues like politics or vaccine stances could arise during gatherings and these conversations can be uncomfortable. Again, know your boundaries and always take care of yourself.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season!

Ashley Townes

Ashley Townes

PhD, MPH, Epidemiologist at Centers for Disease Control
Dr. Ashley Townes (she/her/hers), is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio. She attended Walnut Hills High School and the University of Cincinnati, where she received both her Bachelors and Master of Public Health degrees. She received her doctorate degree in Health Behavior and Epidemiology from Indiana University.

Dr. Townes has experience working as a Community Health Educator and Disease Intervention Specialist in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. She has worked on several initiatives related to the dissemination of national HIV prevention and care campaign materials tailored for African Americans, Hispanic/Latinx, and transgender women of color. Dr. Townes has taught collegiate-level Human Sexuality courses, served as an Epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health, and currently works as an ORISE Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention’s Epidemiology Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA.

Ashley’s research background includes work on the sexual experiences of African American/Black women accessing health information and utilizing sexual health services. In 2018, she received grant funding from the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health to translate sexual health research data into educational materials. Her career interests are aimed at providing quality sexual education and working towards health equity.