Navigating the Holidays: Considerations from an OT Student

Hey readers, happy 4th day of blogmas! Let’s bring it back to holiday content and chat about navigating the holidays in regards to mental health, family dynamics, and energy conservation. This is a little bit of a mixed bag of topics, but I was thinking about things that may impact your participation and emotional health during the holidays and these were the things that stuck out to me most. Here are some things to consider and coping strategies to support participation during the holidays:

Mental Health

Anxiety and depression, among other mental health conditions, can have a major impact on an individual’s participation during the holidays. If you are feeling anxiety about seeing certain family members or participating in certain holiday activities or traditions, try to set yourself up for success by having a few coping strategies in your toolbox.

Coping strategy ideas:

  • Choose one major get together or activity to participate in per day rather than packing your days with multiple events or responsibilities
  • Take breaks between activities. If you are at a family member’s house, find a quiet place to take a moment to yourself as needed throughout the day.
  • Bring a fidget or activity to distract yourself. You can bring a book, headphones, coloring/drawing pad, journal, or small craft such as needlepoint.
  • Prepare ahead of time. If you are expecting to have a busy, anxiety-producing day, have a calm evening the day before.
  • Go for a walk or exercise in the morning before your event or in the evening after the event is over.
  • Bring sensory tools. E.g. scented hand lotion, essential oils that are safe to smell or rub on your skin, chewing gum, wear a soft sweater that feels good to you, etc.
  • Do something you love before and after the event. After all, participating in meaningful occupations promotes positive mental health!

Family Dynamics

This can overlap with the reasons why individuals feel anxious about family gatherings. The important thing to know is that you are not alone in feeling this way. No family is perfect. Try some of the strategies listed above to settle your nerves before, during, or after family gatherings. Another thing to note is that you do not have to engage in a conversation that you are not comfortable with. Set limits and respect your (and your family members’) boundaries. One topic of conversation that can be uncomfortable is politics. If you do not see eye-to-eye with someone on this and it makes you uncomfortable to talk about it, tell them that. There is nothing wrong with simply telling a person that you don’t want to discuss it. Change the subject to something more neutral.

Energy Conservation

Fatigue, pain, and other factors may impact an individual’s participation in the roles and activities that are important to them during the holidays (which can, in turn, affect a person’s mental health). Here are some strategies to consider during the holiday season, whether you are the host or if you are a guest:

  • Make a list. Write down everything you have to do to prepare for the holidays. This can help you stay organized and not feel like you have to do everything all on the day of the event.
  • Online shop. Online shopping reduces the energy requirements of driving/walking to the store, carrying groceries/gifts, walking throughout the store, and the need to travel to multiple stores.
  • Food delivery services. Similar to online shopping, many grocery stores have delivery services. This can lessen the energy requirements of cooking that big holiday meal for your family.
  • Delegate. This can be a great opportunity to strengthen family relationships and pass down recipes or traditions to other family members. Delegate tasks and teach your family members how to do some of your favorite holiday-related tasks or cook your best family recipes.
  • Sit down. Do whatever you can sitting down. This can include cooking, wrapping presents, supervising, etc.
  • Plan it out. Don’t try to cook, clean, shop, and wrap everything on the same day. Split everything up over the week(s) leading up to your holiday event in order to lessen the load on the day of the event.
  • Take breaks. On top of planning when to get everything done, be sure to take breaks throughout. If you have more energy in the morning, do your heavy cleaning in the morning. Take a break, have lunch, then perhaps you can prepare a recipe or wrap some gifts in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! I hope this is helpful, and remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Always feel free to comment below or message me on Instagram with specific questions. Also, be sure to check out my previous Blogmas posts!

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