The holidays are a lovely time of year, a welcome respite from everyday life. But they do face their own challenges. This year in particular, celebrations are marked with COVID-19’s effects on our lives. This increased stress can take a toll on your mental health. Taking a few steps and setting a few mindsets now can go a long way when it comes to coping effectively and helping you stay focused on what really matters this holiday season.

  1. Recognize and accept your loved ones for who they are
    You probably already know how your family members act during the holidays. You know which cousins make you feel insecure by flaunting their successes and which grandparent has a tendency to make things more stressful than you’d like. Remember, no one is going to change just because it’s the holidays. In fact, prepare for them to turn those normal behaviors up a notch with the added stress of the past year and the destabilizing effects of COVID-19. Let go of the idea that you can change who they are or how they act.
    Instead, find doable ways to retain those relationships while minimizing the impact of their actions on your life. Focus on finding joy for yourself within your social circle. Put time and energy into the people whose presence and actions make you happy, and on the people who know how to love you.
  2. Get comfortable setting boundaries and saying “no”
    Don’t commit to activities you aren’t comfortable with, and don’t agree to more social engagements than you can handle. Saying yes when you feel overwhelmed can make you resentful and robs you of joy. Your true friends, family, and colleagues will understand that you can’t do everything. And if someone throws a fit that you won’t be participating in a traditional in-person gathering or don’t feel up for yet another Zoom Christmas party, recognize that their reaction says more about their state of mind than how they feel about you.
  3. Continue making healthy habits a priority
    It’s easy to lose routine during the holidays – especially now, when so many people already feel disconnected from their “normal” pre-COVID routines. Be patient with yourself and accept that you might not be at the top of your game.
    At the same time, set limits. Prioritize sleep. Maintain your normal exercise routine. Limit your alcohol intake. Incorporate healthy foods into your holiday diet, especially if you know you’ll indulge later. And if you catch yourself getting agitated from social media, take a break from your Instagram account.
  4. Appreciate the moment you’re in
    Holidays are emotional; they can dredge up distant memories you don’t normally think about. When facing sadness, grief, or anger, it’s easy to push those feelings down and tell yourself “I’ll deal with it later.” Instead, acknowledge your feelings. Let yourself work through them at your own pace.
    On the flip side, when you find yourself experiencing pleasant emotions, let yourself enjoy them. Appreciate good things as they happen. Even though there’s a lot going on in the world right now, it’s important to let yourself feel joy when you can.
  5. Seek professional help if you need it
    The holidays are notoriously difficult times for mental and physical health. They can flare up anxiety, depression, or any other condition you’re used to living with. If you find yourself struggling with insomnia, feeling irritable or hopeless, beset by unusual physical discomfort, or unable to face day-to-day reality, listen to your body and mind. Don’t wait until the holidays are over; reach out to your doctor or mental health professional.
    Therapists at McLean Counseling Center are here to help. If you’re struggling, reach out to our office by phone (703-821-1073) or request a free consultation at

With all the good things the holiday season brings us, it also brings challenges. Hopefully these simple, doable tips help you stay in a positive mindset so you can focus on enjoying everything the winter months have to offer. After the year we’ve all had, we all certainly deserve it.