Keeping the happy in your holidays: Mental health tips to help you get through the season

The most wonderful time of the year? Sounds good, but the reality is that the holidays bring more strains and struggles than any other time of the year — a series of activities and events that can challenge your mental health.

The key, according to Dr. Frank Ghinassi, senior vice president of the behavioral health and addiction service line at RWJBarnabas Health, is to both be proactive (and thus avoiding tough-stress events) and to know how to recognize the warning signs (in yourself and others).

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“Fatigue, feelings of loneliness, tension, feeling overwhelmed and increased use of nicotine, alcohol and/or other mood-altering substances are all signs that things are not going well,” Ghinassi said.

“If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it could be the prelude to more serious conditions, like anxiety or depression. It is important to seek help from family, friends and professionals.”

Ghinassi, who also serves as the CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, said taking preventative measures helps, too.

Here are some actions he recommends in order to make your holidays a bit happier.

  • Stay healthy: Make eating well, exercise and a good night’s sleep a priority during this busy season. If you are not feeling well, take the time to recoup.
  • Plan your shopping ahead of time: Consider online shopping from the comfort of your home or visit busy stores at off times to avoid major crowds. Sticking to a budget also helps to relieve post-spending anxiety, allowing you to better enjoy the holidays.
  • Do not overextend yourself: This time of year, it is easy to feel that you are being pulled in a hundred different directions, but you are only one person and there are only 24 hours in a day. Make sure you have enough down time to unwind and process how you are feeling emotionally and physically. Try meditation or yoga to relax after a long day at work or a big day of holiday shopping.
  • Reduce COVID-19 anxiety and stress: COVID-19 is still with us, as are other viruses like the flu and RSV. Come up with a COVID-19 testing plan with friends and family before any gatherings or take a test if you are not feeling well to ease your mind as well as the minds of others. Wear a mask in public places and be considerate of others choosing to wear a mask. Stay home if you are sick. It is OK to turn down an invitation if you are worried about spreading or contracting any viruses, especially if you or someone you live with is at high risk.

And, most of all, do the obvious:

  • Spend time with people that make you happy: Maintaining contact with supportive friends and family is an important way to create a happy and healthy holiday season.