The holidays can be a joyful time, full of festive activities and time with loved ones. But it’s also perfectly normal to feel stressed or unhappy at this time of year. In one survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people interviewed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. And with COVID-19 still part of our lives, you might be finding it even harder to maintain a positive mood.
It’s important to take time away from your holiday to-do list and think about the things that will replenish your energy and lift your spirits. Then you can be healthy for your own sake as well as for the sake of others. Let’s consider what types of mental health gifts we can give to ourselves.
Gifts for Relaxation
Weighted blankets, essential oils, bath salts, fragrant candles, and teas can all help us relax and recharge. Aromatherapy is said to improve pain levels, relieve stress, and boost mood, making it a great self-care tool. Lavender can assist with sleep, while rose and chamomile may help you fight off the winter blahs.
If listening to music isn’t part of your relaxation routine, maybe it should be. There’s abundant evidence that music helps people relax. So getting yourself some new tunes, or making time to listen to your existing collection, might just pay big dividends in lifting your spirits.
And reading — whether it’s self-help books, prayer books, or literature — may also enhance our feeling of empowerment and well-being.
If you’ve been wanting to try yoga or meditation, or expand your yoga or meditation practice, give yourself permission to make time for these proven relaxation techniques.
Gifts for Putting the Pieces Together
Did you know that the popularity of jigsaw puzzles rose more than 300 percent during the pandemic? They were also popular during the Great Depression as an antidote for hard times. Many people find working on puzzles both meditative and a distraction from other concerns.
Puzzles are also a good way to relax and practice mindfulness, bringing your conscious attention to the present moment. And working on a puzzle with a family member can help you both get away from screens and enrich your sense of personal connection.
Gifts for Getting Creative
Gifts that encourage creativity may also be good for our mental and physical health. Art supplies or a journal can lead us out of ourselves and provide a way to track, express, and manage our emotions. Acquiring new photography equipment, musical instruments — or whatever brings forth your inner muse — is a gift that will keep on giving.
Gifts to Get Yourself Moving
Since we know movement and exercise are important for mental health, consider gifts that will motivate you to get moving, especially outside. Gift yourself a good pair of walking shoes, a warm jacket, and hat, and welcome a walk in the sun in any temperature. If you’re staying indoors, try a free online yoga class; yoga may even help reduce depressive symptoms.
The Gift of Time
Decide what’s most important to do in a day, and get comfortable disregarding or delegating the rest. Don’t rush through meals, and set aside time for the activities that make you feel good, whether it’s listening to music or walking the dog. (If you don’t have a dog, remember that owning a pet can also be good for your mental health. There’s another gift idea — provided you’re ready to make that kind of a commitment.)
Most importantly, manage your time so you can reap the mental and physical health benefits of seven – eight hours of sleep each night.
The Gift of Help
In the end, if self-care measures don’t seem like enough and you are feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or depression, the best gift you might give yourself this holiday is the gift of professional help. Your primary health care provider can evaluate your needs, and if necessary, prescribe medication or refer you to a licensed therapist. (Independence Blue Cross members can locate in-network behavioral health specialists at ibx.com/providerfinder.)
“Some people don’t make time to take care of their mental health or engage in therapy because they think it’s an extravagant use of time and money that they should be spending on others,” says Ryan Connolly MD, MS, a psychiatrist and behavioral health medical director at Independence Blue Cross.
“But being mentally healthy allows us to function and take good care or our families, friends, co-workers, and everyone else we need to. When we feel good, we are able to contribute fully, and more meaningfully participate in these various relationships. I can’t think of a better gift than that.”
If You Need Help
If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.
For more information about depression, self-care strategies and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.