Mental Health

How To Prioritize Your Mental Health During the Holidays

This season, we’re committed to having hard (and beautiful!) conversations about mental health — so we consulted an expert.

As the holidays roll around, we’re taking steps to look after our mental health. With a background of prolonged ground and air travel, budgeting for gifts, family dinners, and disrupted routines, we’re investing in strategies for taking care of our heads and our hearts this season. We hope you join us as we head Homebody for the Holidays. 😌

Some of us have never been diagnosed with mental illness. Those that haven’t cannot claim to know what it’s like to feel your heartbeat accelerate from clinical anxiety or feel depression pull heavy at your bones. But so, so many of us do cope with sickness daily and know how much it stings to have others ask, “Why aren’t you acting like yourself?” at gatherings. This season, we’re committed to having hard (and beautiful!) conversations about each other’s experiences with mental health and illness.

We’ve teamed up with Alma to equip us with the tools necessary to navigate an often turbulent holiday season.

Alma is a network and community of therapists, currently based in NYC, with a mission to improve the experience of therapy for both providers and clients, and to simplify access to high quality, affordable mental health care. To do this, Alma supports providers via a membership model with everything they need to run a private practice, including beautifully designed spaces for care if they need it. For anyone seeking therapy, Alma supports clients in their search for the right therapist according to individual needs, whether that means cost, area of focus, language, or identity. Simply put, Alma is making space for therapy.

Meet Zoe, an Alma therapist:


Dr. Zoe White is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in young adult mental health, eating disorders, and trauma. Zoe received her doctorate from Columbia University, completed her pre-doctoral internship at Columbia University Medical Center and her postdoctoral fellowship at NYU. Zoe currently has a private practice in Flatiron Here’s how she answered our pressing questions about managing mental illness during the holidays.

GNI: The holidays make me feel lonelier than usual. What can I do to prepare in advance?

ZW: First step: plan. Take a bit of time to think about what might come up and what has gone awry in the past. Set aside some time to ask yourself, What are my personal triggers and stressors that are not only possible but also likely to come up in this specific situation? Therefore, we’re able to get ahead of a potentially painful moment. Additionally, we’re not setting ourselves up for a big disappointment if we’re expecting some bumpiness. Another key question to ask yourself is what do I have control over and what is beyond my control? Will there be a few things that might come up that you inevitably can’t plan for? Yes. And that’s okay too!

The holidays usually throw me out of my routine. How do I keep them top-of-mind in the midst of a packed schedule?

Try and keep up with routines that are stabilizing in your day to day life. For example: keep taking your prescription meds, maintain your exercise habits, get enough sleep, limit your alcohol intake. It can be easy to let go of routines when we think about “relaxing” or being in vacation mode, but actually some of these routines are really working to support our mental health. A good thing to keep in mind if you’re traveling is what you might need to bring with you to accomplish this?

What can I do to feel safe and in control during uncertain times?

Set up boundaries. Boundaries may look different for different people. They might look like time limits, personal space, or specific relationships. For example: maybe you don’t stay over as long as Mom wants, maybe you don’t sit next to uncle Albert, maybe you ask Dad not to bring up politics this year.

Identify some actionable and specific boundaries that you can set for yourself or with others. Remember: this does not mean that other people will follow through. You can only control your actions and reactions and not those of other people.

I’m coping with sickness or loss this season. What are the supports I can turn to?

I’ll point you to two categories of supports: relational supports and personal supports.

Relational supports
If you’re unable to meet with your therapist in person, identify methods by which you might be able to communication during the holidays (i.e. phone call or Skype session). If you find that live communication is not doable, try writing a letter or taking some notes that you and your therapist can discuss when you resume.

Identify a safe and supportive friend that you can call or text if things are feeling stressful. Is there a sibling or other safe person that will actually be there with you? Consider agreeing on a code word to let this person know that you are struggling and need to take a beat.

Personal supports
Read a book. Journal. Take a bath. Use a meditation app. Go out for a walk. Listen to a podcast! Find activities that make you feel good, grounded, and calm leading up to, during, and following moments of stress.

Therapy apps, like Talkspace or Betterhelp are also a good option.

Stressful situations always seem to sneak up on me. How do I know what to do in the moment?

Actually make a real list (maybe in a note on your phone) of all of your plans to access emotional support and safety. When we get emotionally activated, we can’t always access our best selves or the brainpower to think of what might be helpful. So if a list like this exists, then you can simply refer to all of your skills and tools in the moment without having to brainstorm.

Do you have tips for navigating mental health around the holidays? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter, and be a part of conversations like this one.

Illustration by Sunny Eckerle.

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