Thanksgiving is in the rearview, but for introverts (and my fellow extroverted introverts), the chaotic holiday season is just beginning. Invites to work events, friends’ parties, and family dinners are slowly cluttering our inboxes, and sometimes our mental health doesn’t want to hit RSVP. But never fear because therapists are here!
I called up Eidit Choochage, a licensed therapist and life coach who specializes in anxiety, for help, so here’s her advice on how to brace for the oncoming onslaught of eggnog and ugly sweaters, and protect your mental health during the holidays. (Disclaimer: Eidit is also my personal life coach, but our discussion was strictly an interview on general mental health tips for the holiday season.)
1. Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel stressed.
The holidays put a strain on everything, so not feeling cheery 24/7 is totally expected. “The holidays are difficult for a majority of people, especially folks who might experience social anxiety or lean towards being an introvert,” Eidit says. “It’s a marathon of events between work, family, and friends. And if you’re in a relationship, you have your partner’s family, friends, and work events.”
All that busyness takes a toll on our mental health, which is why a 2019 study found that 88% of Americans consider this to be the most stressful time of the year. It’s not just you, and you’re not the only one that thinks It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas should be renamed to It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Stress Sweats.
2. Say no to events that aren’t a priority.
It’s difficult to get out of your family’s holiday dinner, but your neighbor’s cookie swap? Easy. As invites roll your way, set some boundaries for your schedule so your calendar doesn’t get dangerously crowded. “If an event is going to add more stress on top of the family and the friends, then just decline it,” Eidit suggests. “We think people are going to be so mad at us if we don’t go, but more people are understanding that others are prioritizing their mental health.”
If you’re saying no to someone on your periphery, an explanation isn’t always necessary. Although, if it’s a friend whose feelings could be hurt by the response, Eidit recommends saying something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m really pacing myself this holiday season to take care of myself, so, unfortunately, I won’t be able to make this event.” You can always top off the explanation with an invitation to reconnect in the new year when you’re more available.
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3. Schedule extra self-care time.
Once you’ve cleared up space in your schedule, pop in some extra me-time. If you enjoy a long bath once a week, add an extra sesh before your friend’s Hanukkah party. Is binge-watching TV more your speed? Save the weekly episode till the night after an event so you have a destressing activity ready to go. Like Eidit says, this season is a marathon, so making sure there are some water stations along the way in the form of hot yoga or a cool swim is essential. (Personally, Eidit is a fan of the Calm app and says throwing on a free 5-minute video helps ground her before an outing.)
4. Give yourself an out.
Okay, so you’ve meditated, and now you’re getting ready for the big, cookie-filled night. If you still can’t find that party spirit, only commit yourself to part of the evening. Eidit says, “Sometimes when we think about going to the gym, it’s enough to say we’re just going for 10 minutes. Then once they’re actually there, people tend to stay longer. In the same way, just tell yourself that you’ll go for one hour. Giving yourself that mental permission to leave at any point can be enough of a motivator to go.”
If you hit that hour and actually warmed up to the setting, stay as long as your little heart can take it (or at least until Mariah Carey comes on). If you didn’t have a ball, Eidit says getting the negative energy out of your body through movement can help you wind down. Go for a walk or follow a stretching video, then you can also soothe your mind with a “soul-care” activity like journaling. “You’re taking care of your nervous system by doing things that feel safe to you. I definitely encourage some type of movement or breathwork coupled with your favorite things like a hot shower or face mask,” she says.
5. If drama starts, don’t participate.
If your major concern is clashing with friends or family, the most important thing to remember is that while you can’t control other people’s actions, you can control how you respond to them. We all have that aunt or colleague that just loves to get under our skin, but it’s not our job to feed into their toxicity. As Eidit reminds us, “We’re giving that person all the power by engaging in that back-and-forth. Just say, ‘I’m not in the mood to talk about that right now’ until they drop it.”
Another of Eidit’s tips is to imagine an invisible bubble around you, then visualize their comments bouncing off without ever reaching you. You can also take a few minutes outside to practice some breathwork and get out of that heated headspace. “You’re setting boundaries and teaching people how to treat you,” she explains. “That takes more emotional energy, but if you’re going to be in that space anyway, shutting it down then and there is going to protect your energy.”
Introverts, do what you need to protect your mental health during the holidays.
Hopefully these tips help to not just survive the holiday season, but to fully enjoy it. Protecting your mental health during the holidays is key to being present and making the most of your time with family and friends, especially if you are more of an introvert. So, set those boundaries and give yourself a little extra love.