Managing Stress During the Holidays

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It’s that time of year again, the time when we are called to gather, celebrate, reflect and hopefully rest. But this is also a time of year when stress can build up because we are not conditioned to pay attention to our needs and our mental health. For example, think about what we are called to do during the holiday season, especially those of us from marginalized communities. Our cultures encourage us to gather with family and loved ones, observe/worship (religious, cultural and other holidays), travel (mask up y’all) and maybe even vacation (if we’re lucky). But nowhere in there are we encouraged to care for our mental health (and encouraging everyone to care for their mental health is exactly what all of these amazing women and me did on World Mental Health Day as part of Charlemagne Tha God’s 2021 Mental Wealth Expo).

Especially after a year like 2021 where we saw so much violence, lost loved ones, witnessed countless injustices, experienced COVID anxiety, felt loneliness and even experienced vicarious trauma, this holiday season requires us to center and care for our own mental health. 

Reflecting on that idea of family and loved ones, I just want to encourage you and remind you that if family gatherings stress you out (Are you cooking? Traveling with family? Family coming to visit?!), know that it is perfectly ok to name this as a stressful (though often joyful) situation and give yourself permission to feel your feelings (as I always say). We know that in families of color (especially), there can be a lot of pressure to be together and spend time with the expectation that we will do so without complaining and/or frustration. That’s a lot of pressure and can be tough at times. 

So, whatever you do just remember, you are allowed to take care of yourself first. 

To help you, I’m sharing a few of my tested and culturally grounded strategies perfect for this season (or anytime really). Think of this as my holiday gift to you (honoring whichever holiday you celebrate):

Some of my go-tos for supporting my mental health include mindfulness; the practice of always being present. Mindfulness is a free, portable, and culturally relevant tool for people from many different backgrounds. 

Other tools in my toolkit include regular exercise, incorporating the right foods into my diet, limiting my caffeine intake, surrounding myself with people who help me remain calm, taking a beat before my stress response amps up, finding time to be alone and just breathe and reminding myself that my mental health matters.

A final, big idea for helping to manage your mental health this season. SET BOUNDARIES! Setting healthy boundaries is key to supporting our mental health. Are there certain topics that you refuse to discuss under any circumstances? Are there certain family members who make you uncomfortable? Gaining clarity about your needs BEFORE you engage with family during the holidays is critical, so take some time to do this as we head into the final holidays of 2021.

Overall, I just want to encourage you to be intentional and clear-eyed about the upcoming holidays so that you can get some much-needed rest and enjoy your time with your family, where that is your family by birth or by choice.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Love, Light, Science

Dr. Alfiee