The holidays are wonderful because it’s a time dedicated to giving back to our loved ones and to our community, but it’s also a time where we can become too hyper-focused on meeting the needs of others and slip on taking care of ourselves in the process—the lines between self-care and self-medicating start to blur.
It’s imperative to always keep yourself at the top of your to do list, especially during the busy holiday season. To get yourself in the habit, think of your mental health as hygiene and give it the same priority you would with a workout plan or even brushing your teeth. It is essential to take care of your mind on a daily basis and the best way to do this is by creating an actionable plan for ensuring that each day you do what you mentally need—hydrate, sleep, eat healthy, take time to reflect, move your body, and connect with people.
Below, I’m sharing my top five tips for making your mental health a priority during the holidays (and beyond) to hopefully help kick-start your own mental hygiene routine.
Beginning and end-of-day routines
Once my day gets started it can feel like it has a mind of its own. That’s why I set aside 30 minutes at the start of each morning and at the end of each night where I can do my simple rituals – wash my face, brush my teeth, take my vitamins, take my PYM Mood Chews, journal for 5 to 10 minutes, stretch, and drink a glass of water. While this isn’t a holiday-specific tactic, finding that time each day to concentrate on your needs is the first small step to gaining strong mental hygiene habits.
Focus on nourishment
The holidays are not the time to worry about dieting, but it is important to think about nourishment. This means don’t worry about your waistline, do worry about getting the right nutrients, sleep, water, and air. Eat the festive cookies and then have a side of vegetables, drink the eggnog and then wash it down with a big glass of water, make your shopping list and then take a few deep breaths. Too much sugar and carbs inevitably sends anyone on an energetic roller coaster throughout the day, but if you’re doing other healthy habits it should counterbalance that holiday rush. Also, in the name of sleep, I suggest keeping your sugar and carb intake to the earlier hours of the day, otherwise it can disrupt your slumber and have you waking up tired the next day. Sleep is nourishment for your brain, so don’t skimp, being tired makes anxiety all the more likely.
Don’t get SAD
We live in a fast-paced and frankly chaotic time and it can be hard for our bodies to keep up. There are a few key areas that I suggest supplementing when it comes to mental health. First, vitamin D is something our body primarily gets from sun exposure, but chances are during the winter months you’re not hanging out in the sunshine as often or the sun is too far away to be powerful enough to do its job. Without enough vitamin D, you could get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which legitimately makes you feel sad.
Second, I suggest taking a compound of amino acids, GABA and L-Theanine, which I find essential for taming the stress, overwhelm and anxiety I feel during the holidays. They are naturally occurring in our bodies and in foods, but it’s hard to get enough concentrated naturally to make an impact, so I take a daily chewable that’s made by PYM. In full disclosure, I’m a cofounder of PYM, but I created this product because it was impossible to find an effective and delicious way to get these supplements I already relied on. Lastly, I’ve personally found 5-HTP, which helps the body regulate how much serotonin it produces, helps stabilize my mood. Note, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, so you should consult your medical practitioner and do your own research, this is just what works for me!
Holiday fun vs self-medicating
During the holidays, it’s easier to write-off toxic coping mechanisms (i.e. avoidance or drinking) in the name of festive fun. The simplest way to navigate this is asking yourself “why?” Why is it that you’re choosing to_____.
If the answer is to escape or avoid thinking/feeling bad/sad things, then you’re probably self-medicating. Overspending, overindulging, and straight-up ignoring inevitably lead to things being worse than wherever you are now. Tough love. If all you can do right now is acknowledge your thoughts and behavior, that’s still a step in the right direction. Seeking community programs or therapy is a great way to start exploring and addressing these habits.
I know you know already—there’s no shortage of people telling you to account for what you’re grateful for and it would be borderline obnoxious if it wasn’t so damn wholesome and legitimately effective. Here’s my spin on it, complaint gratitude. When I find myself complaining, annoyed, or facing a problem, I try to reframe and ask myself why I’m lucky that I get to have this issue. For example, let’s say a friend or significant other breaks up with you. With this practice, I would say to myself “I’m lucky this person showed me their priorities, and now I have the space to find someone who equally values me as I do them.” Or when I feel sick, “I am lucky that I don’t feel this way all the time and overall I am in good health.” I know not *everything* can or should be spun like this, but when it comes to the little things you find yourself hung up on, it’s helpful to try to find a way to take a step back, look at the big picture, and find gratitude in the fact that you have the luxury of having that problem.
I hope these quick tips at the very least get you thinking about what your mental hygiene routine looks like and how to incorporate it into your day. This season adds a little extra stress for everyone (especially this year), but make sure to take time for yourself and may all your holidays be merry and bright!