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  • Caleb Birkhoff

Navigating the Holiday Season: Prioritizing Mental Health in Your Relationship and Family

The holiday season is often depicted as joyful and harmonious with happy families gathered around the table. With its joyful celebrations and cherished traditions, often brings warmth and love to our lives. However, it's no secret that this time of year can also be incredibly stressful. The pressure of expectations, gift-giving, family gatherings, and even the rush of decorating and party planning can leave a toll under ideal conditions. For others it can lead to anxiety, tension, and even conflict. A lot of families feel the pressure to be the Target commercial family; decked out in matching pajama outfits with smile plastered on their faces. Let’s be honest, a lot of people don’t have that family. In the midst of all the holiday frenzy, it's vital to prioritize mental health for yourself and your loved ones. Let's explore how you can negotiate the holiday season in a way that fosters emotional well-being and strengthens your bonds. Here are some tips on how to navigate this time of the year without sacrificing our well-being.

1. Reevaluate Your Expectations

One of the leading causes of holiday stress is unrealistic expectations (the Target family from above). Embrace the imperfect and find joy in the small moments, after all enough small moments become large moments when you stack them together. It will help your stress level to let go of the need for a flawless holiday and focus on creating meaningful memories. Unmet and uncommunicated expectations are a recipe for resentment. If you are clear on what you want or need, and have an understanding of what your partner or family want/need, you’re much more likely to avoid couples counseling in the new year.

2. Open Communication with Your Partner

Discuss your expectations, desires, and any concerns with your partner. Being on the same page and supporting each other can ease stress and strengthen your connection. If you haven’t already, this is a good time to plan for the holiday season. Make sure you’re aligned about where you’re spending the different events, traditions and rituals you would like to participate in, and what the different holidays mean to you.

Communication is key in any relationship, and especially during the holiday season. Be honest with your partner or family about your needs and emotions. Express what you're comfortable with and what triggers your anxiety or stress. This can help everyone involved to prepare and plan accordingly. Try to find a compromise that respects each other's boundaries and values. This can help you develop a game plan to tackle this time of year successfully.

3. Establish Boundaries

Boundaries are essential! They let us establish where we end (physically and emotionally) and where other people begin. Set boundaries to protect your mental health. It's vital to set boundaries when it comes to the holiday season. This means saying "no" to events, invitations, or traditions that you don't feel comfortable with. It can be hard to go against the norm or disappoint others, but your mental health should be a top priority. Be clear about your limits and what you can and cannot commit to. Remember, it's okay to say no when you need to. As has been said repeatedly, “no is a complete sentence.” You don’t have to justify your “no,” but it can be helpful to have a boundary you can set, and reset, easily.

Focus on the activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. You can also set boundaries around social media use to limit the comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out) that often arises during this season.

4. Prioritize Self-Care

Take time for yourself to recharge. Ensure you maintain self-care routines that keep you grounded. This is a good time of year to lean into what has worked during the year, even if it fell off earlier than you’d care to admit. Ask for the help you need in being able to achieve this, talk to your support system. Don’t forget your therapist, or couples counseling is available to you during this time of year to. Start talking to your therapist now about their holiday schedule and make you sure you’re on it! Ask about scheduling additional sessions if you need the extra support.

Self-care is crucial all year round, but during the holidays, it can be easier to neglect. Make sure you prioritize taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Whether that means taking a break from the holiday rush and spending time alone, indulging in your favorite self-care activities, or simply getting enough sleep. Pay attention to your needs and don't be afraid to prioritize your self-care routine, extra credit if you practice setting new boundaries around it.

5. Manage Finances Mindfully

Create a budget and stick to it! A budget is only as good as it is realistic and followed. Discuss financial boundaries with your partner and find creative ways to give meaningful gifts that don't break the bank. You have likely been socialized to not talk about money, and don’t worry, you don’t have to break this rule with everyone in your life. It is important to talk to your partner or family about money, especially if it’s tight or being saved. Sometimes it’s really helpful to have this conversation with the support of a professional.

6. Embrace Flexibility

Understand that plans may change, and last-minute adjustments might be necessary. Instead of stressing over the unexpected, try to embrace the flow of the season. Plan as you can, manage risk, and be prepared to recalibrate as needed. Don’t forget that you have support! Family, friends, partners, and therapists are all here to help. This year is an opportunity to start a new tradition.

7. Cultivate Gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful tool for boosting mental health. Each day, take a moment to reflect on what you're thankful for. Certainly, cultivating gratitude is a powerful practice, especially during the holiday season when stress and expectations can sometimes overshadow the spirit of thankfulness.

Gratitude is linked to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. It promotes a positive mindset and enhances overall well-being. During a time of year that our mental health can suffer, being able to influence our own mental health is a powerful intervention.

8. Plan Mindful Celebrations

Select the events and traditions that matter most to you and your family. This can create more meaningful moments and less overwhelm. It might be impossible to have exactly the holiday season you want, but it’s not outside your control to have most of it. You might be meeting new people, reconnecting with challenging people, or trying on a new behavior for yourself. Be gentle and patient, set those boundaries, and ask for help.

9. Practice Patience

Give yourself grace for any shortcomings or stress-induced moments. This patience will extend to your relationships as well. Be patient with yourself, with your partner and family, and likely with the world at large. Travel plans change, flights get delayed or cancelled, and someone nosy can test your resolve. A helpful way to be patient is to manage yours, and others, expectations (just like #1 on this list).

Expectations can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they can motivate and inspire us to create meaningful experiences. On the other hand, they can lead to disappointment and frustration if they're not met. Managed expectations can be the difference of us striving for perfection or comparing ourselves to others. We can then instead focus on the present moment and appreciate the little things.

10. Seek Professional Help if Necessary

If you're struggling with your mental health during the holiday season, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Talk to your therapist, couple’s counselor or mental health provider about how you're feeling and explore the best course of action. If you don't have one, there's still time to get started. They can provide valuable tools and strategies that can help you navigate this challenging time.

The holiday season can be a beautiful time of love and connection, but it's crucial to prioritize your mental health during this period. The holiday season can be a challenging time for couples and families, but it doesn't have to be. By setting realistic expectations, maintaining open communication, and practicing self-care, you can create a holiday season that brings joy, fulfillment, and peace to you and your loved ones. Remember, it's okay to prioritize ourselves and our well-being, even during the holiday season. Do what's best for you and your loved ones, and know that you can take care of yourself even during this immensely stressful time of year.

I hope that this helps you feel more confident about starting, or returning, to therapy a hurdle towards the holidays in San Francisco. If after reading all of that, you’re still swirling with questions feel free to call me at 415-990-1452 for a free 15-minute phone consultation and to get some questions answered. I would be happy to hear what is happening for you, what you’re looking for and provide some direction to finding the right therapist for you.

Additionally, if you are seeking help with couples therapy, drugs and alcohol, life transitions, discovering yourself, or therapy for men’s issues, you can read more about how Caleb Birkhoff might be able to help by clicking here!

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