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5 Ways to Boost Your Mental Health This Holiday Season

During the holiday season, everything moves at a faster pace. There are places to be and people to see and plans to arrange to make it all happen. Whenever you combine family and the expectation to have a great time, there can be accompanying stress that affects your mental health. 

“Oftentimes during the holiday season, it’s so busy that people put off what they typically do to take care of themselves,” says Dr. Shenika Jones, Ph.D., the director of Saint Joseph’s University’s clinical mental health counseling master’s program, a part of the college’s School of Health Studies and Education

If you’re stressed about the holiday season — or know that this time of year can be difficult for you — there are ways to help manage your stress and take ownership of your mental wellness. We spoke with Dr. Jones and Dr. Angela McDonald, dean of Saint Joseph’s School of Health Studies and Education, for some tips to make this holiday season as stress-free as possible. 

Stay active

When temperatures dip into the 30s, it can be difficult to get motivated to go outside. But staying active and getting some sunshine is an important part of tending to your mental health. If you find yourself needing a break from the hustle and bustle of family gatherings and social events, Dr. Jones recommends taking time to reset and going for a walk. 

“We have to create our own plan for how we’re going to implement self-care,” Dr. Jones says. “Maintaining physical health and wellbeing — getting outside, taking in the sun and enjoying the environment around you — can help maintain overall health and reduce stress.”

Dr. McDonald also notes that being among nature can be “restorative,” as it helps the brain reset and prepares us to handle anything the day might throw at us.

Develop conflict strategies

When family gets together, there are bound to be arguments. How you implement conflict management strategies can have an impact on your mental health during the holidays.

Setting boundaries is also important — knowing when to remove yourself from a situation and communicating how you’re feeling can help others understand where you’re coming from. 

“Before responding with reactivity that can heighten a situation, take a breath, think about what your intention is and whether or not you need to go there,” Dr. McDonald says. “It’s good to have a plan in place.”

Identify resources for support

If you’re going through a difficult time, talking to a professional can help you relieve some of the internal feelings you’re having and provide strategies to improve your overall mental health. In addition to seeing a counselor, there are many other resources available for those who might be seeking professional help — talk helplines such as 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or texting CONNECT to 85511 — are great resources for discussing any immediate problems you’re having. 

“Clients are the experts of their own lives,” Dr. Jones says. “If counselors are trained to be active listeners and know how to use their skills and techniques to hone in on what an experience is like for the client, that client will feel more willing to share and open up.”

At Saint Joseph’s, the School of Health Studies and Education adopts this mindset in its curriculum. One of its classes covers different stages of social development so that students can prepare for the different types of clients they’ll see as professionals.

The school also trains its students to respond and empathize with the problems patients from different social and economic backgrounds might want to discuss so that they’re prepared for anything. 

Keep a routine

Maintaining your mental health is an ongoing process. There isn’t a quick fix to suddenly make everything alright — it’s something that requires commitment. Putting in safeguards and establishing a routine are effective methods to help create new day-to-day habits.  

Sleep is an integral part of self-care — as Dr. McDonald notes, our bodies and brains feel the impact of not getting enough sleep. In addition, Dr. Jones recommends establishing a set time to go to bed and wake up every day as well as factoring in a break in the middle of the day to take time for yourself. 

“There can be negative byproducts of a lack of sleep or too much stress,” Dr. McDonald says. “There are actual brain and chemical processes that are happening, and when we get a good night’s sleep, we are helping our body manage stressors throughout the day.”

Find a community

If you’re looking for a place to talk to others about your problems outside of seeing a counselor, both Dr. McDonald and Dr. Jones recommend seeking out support or faith groups. Being part of a community of people who have similar feelings or experiences as you might help you feel less alone.

“Whether it’s friendships, social media or faith communities, finding people who understand can be healing and really helpful,” Dr. Jones says. “Don’t be afraid to reference life experiences that can help build connections with others who are feeling similar to you.”

It’s this same holistic mindset that students at Saint Joseph’s are taught to embrace in their preparation to become counselors. The school centers its teachings around leading with empathy and preparing to see patients from different walks of life.

And within its health studies and education programs — family counseling, addiction therapy, or developmental and behavioral analysis to name a few — students leave with the knowledge and applied practice they need to become skilled professionals ready to enter their given fields. 

“Students have to be prepared to work with those who are like them in some ways and not like them in other ways — and approach each of these conversations with empathy,” Dr. McDonald says.