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They say it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but for up to 62% of North American adults, the holiday season can be a source of significant stress.[1] With the added pressure of purchasing gifts for everyone in your life, finishing up work for the holiday season, and coordinating schedules for multiple events, it can get overwhelming.

For those with mild-to-moderate multiple sclerosis (MS) or post-concussion syndrome, the busyness of the holidays can lead some to neglect their own personal wellbeing during the season of giving.

For those who tend to feel down or overwhelmed during the holidays, we’ve gathered helpful tips to ensure you prioritize well-needed personal time and reduce stress. 

1. Schedule frequent personal check-ins

Amid all the hustle and bustle, you might not notice you’re feeling stressed until it becomes overwhelming. Despite how many errands you need to run, or how many chores you need to check off your list before holiday break, it’s important to frequently pause and check in with yourself.

For some, journaling is a great way to look inward and reflect on how you’re doing. Emotions can be hard to recognize and work through, so verbally processing your feelings in the form of journaling can be cathartic.[2]

You can journal as much or as little as you would like. Sometimes, just writing down a single thought for the day may be enough to help calm your brain, while other days may require an entire page to work through your emotions.

Taking time to be alone is also vital to working through any negative emotions you may have. Especially when surrounded by family, make sure you schedule some time during the day to sit alone and practice light meditation. This is a great way to relax and get back in touch with your inner thoughts and feelings.[3]

2. Stay active

The natural “happy” hormones released in our brains during exercise, known as endorphins, are vital for our well-being.[4] Even in times when we are not under significant stress, endorphins provide us with a more positive outlook and clearer thought processes directly after exercising. 

As a reactive and proactive solution to the holiday blues, it is recommended we all partake in regular exercise to maintain proper physical and mental health. For those who are unable to partake in strenuous activities, all forms of movement are helpful and do not have to be high impact. In fact, going for a walk for even 15 minutes a day is enough to significantly reduce clinical depression.[5]

Proven as one of the best methods for reducing stress, anxiety and depression, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of movement a day to maximize all possible mental health benefits.[6] To make it even more enjoyable, invite family or friends on leisurely walks and increase quality time spent with loved ones this season.

3. Prioritize sleep

The holiday season can mean long days, and sometimes, even longer nights. Between the many gatherings (virtually, of course!), late nights of prepping treats and dinners, or staying up late to finish some last minute online holiday shopping, we may feel like we need another holiday.

One way to combat the holiday blues is ensuring you don’t let yourself fall behind in sleep. Make sure you’re getting into bed early enough to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.[7] With adequate sleep our brains and bodies are able to recuperate properly, ensuring we can focus properly the next day and have the resources required to deal with stressful situations.[8]

Without adequate sleep, we’re more susceptible to illness and anxiety as our brains are still overtaxed from the previous day. A lack of sleep also means we’re less likely to engage in the holiday fun with our friends and families, leading to further guilt and feelings of loneliness.

Overall, this is one of the easiest methods to prioritize your brain health during the holidays. So make sure you're at your best this season and stay in bed a little longer!

 4. Reconnect with your values at the holidays

Many people report their holiday stress and sadness come from feelings of inadequacy, financial stress and commercialization.[9] Despite the fact that this season is meant to be focused on family and togetherness, many people feel bombarded by constant messages to buy more, maximize sales and give more than ever before. Especially when one has a tight budget, this can lead to stress over upcoming bills and managing everyday finances, on top of holiday spending.

One way to manage anxiety over increased commercialization this time of year is to remove yourself from all marketing mailing lists and taking regular breaks from social media. It can be tempting to keep shopping when sales emails are flooding our inboxes or influencers on social media are pushing a new brand. Luckily, we don’t have to receive these messages in the first place.

Go ahead and unsubscribe yourself from all the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Week email lists, and remind yourself of what is really important to you. Is it buying the newest tech while it’s still on sale this year? Or is it spending time with your loved ones? Disconnecting from the things that don’t matter allows us to focus once more on what truly makes us happy and will improve our brain health in the long-term.

Another tactic to help you focus on what makes you happy this season is reflecting on your previous holiday seasons and remembering what traditions you liked and which didn't serve a purpose.[10] By only keeping the traditions that bring you the most joy, you can focus your energy on the things you value the most.

5. Learn to say “No!”

There are a lot of demands during the holidays. We all have to juggle christmas traditions with family, work, and friends, while also trying to manage all of our planning and prepping for the holidays. At the end of the season, we tend to feel overextended and this can play a big role in why some of us experience sadness and stress during the holidays.

This season, to maintain optimal brain health, try using the word “no” more often. If your schedule is filling up quickly, try to prioritize the events or traditions that mean the most to you, and decline every other offer.[11] If there is a specific family member that tends to bring you down, then maybe you take a break from visiting with them this year.

Feel free to also decline the offer to host or cook a big dinner this year. If you’re the one always working hard to make the season special and it is weighing heavily on you, then ask someone else to take the lead this year. There is nothing wrong with sharing the duties and we all deserve the opportunity to relax at the holidays.

For those with post-concussion or MS symptoms, the holidays can be particularly stressful and it is vital that brain health is also prioritized during this busy time of year. To find more support near you, check out our Community Support Page for TBI and Community Support Page for MS.

To stay up-to-date with PoNS TreatmentTM, follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter here.

Disclaimer: This content is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

[1] Flynn, Caitlin. “How to ensure your mental health remains a priority during the holidays.” PopSugar. Group Nine Media, December 13, 2019. https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/tips-for-prioritizing-your-mental-health-during-holidays-46847671

[2] “Holidays and brain health: managing december stress.” BrainTap. December 5, 2018. https://braintap.com/holidays-and-brain-health-managing-december-stress/

[3] Topor, David. “Prioritizing the “me” in merry: self-care strategies for this holiday season.” Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School, December 18, 2017. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/self-care-strategies-holiday-season-2017121812926

[4] “The mental health benefits of exercise.” Help Guide. October 2020. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm

[5] Craft, Lynette & Perna, Frank. “The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed.” The Primary Care Companion. NCBI, 2004. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC474733/

[6] Flynn, Caitlin. “How to ensure your mental health remains a priority during the holidays.” PopSugar. Group Nine Media, December 13, 2019. https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/tips-for-prioritizing-your-mental-health-during-holidays-46847671

[7] “Holidays and brain health: managing december stress.” BrainTap. December 5, 2018. https://braintap.com/holidays-and-brain-health-managing-december-stress/

[8] “Holidays and brain health: managing december stress.” BrainTap. December 5, 2018. https://braintap.com/holidays-and-brain-health-managing-december-stress/

[9] Ali, Shainna. “How to manage your mental health during the holidays.” Psychology Today, November 20, 2018. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/modern-mentality/201811/how-manage-your-mental-health-during-the-holidays

[10] Howard, Angela. “Prioritizing mental health during the holidays.” His Heart Foundation. December 11, 2019. https://hisheartfoundation.org/prioritizing-your-mental-health-during-the-holidays/

[11] Cobb, Ian. “Prioritize your mental health over the holidays.” E-know.ca. December 22, 2019. https://www.e-know.ca/regions/east-kootenay/prioritize-your-mental-health-over-the-holidays/