THE BLOG
12/03/2014 11:30 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

5 Tips for Mentally-Healthy Holidays

We can easily lose touch with the joy of the holiday season when negative feelings creep into our minds. Be proactive about your mental health. Minimize the hectic and stressful aspects of the season so that your mind and heart can be touched by moments of delight, awe, and hope. Here are five tips to help you have mentally-healthy holidays.

1. Give yourself a mental health break. As we enter the holiday season there is way too much pressure to go all out with decorations, recipes, extra activities and shopping. You don't have to buy into this idea of perfection. Trying to meet unrealistic expectations contributes to stress and anxiety. Give yourself permission to refrain from the frenzy of holiday "muchness." Give yourself a mental health break by choosing to keep it simple this year.

2. Give someone a mental health hug. In the spirit of the holidays, surprise someone with a generous gesture of kindness. You may be surprised how many of us struggle day-to-day with mental illness or have loved ones who do. You can be a sparkle of hope in a person's day by reaching out and being a true friend. Spend time with someone you know who's had a rough time or is facing a difficult anniversary during this holiday season. Your compassionate listening, hopeful companionship, and supportive presence can help lift the fog of despair and loneliness. Give someone a mental health hug by reminding them that they are not alone.

3. Part ways with people pleasing. Okay, admit it. There is someone in the family (it just might be you) who runs ragged trying to people please, making sure that everyone else is happy. (This, by the way, is crazy making.) No matter how good your pie, somebody is going to complain about the crust. No matter how hard you try to ensure a good time, somebody is going to be cranky (it just might be you). And no matter how hard you try, somebody is not going to appreciate how hard you've worked or all the sacrifices you have made. We cannot force people to be grateful for us or to change their attitudes and behaviors. Create good boundaries that protect you from internalizing other's negativity. Part ways with people pleasing and discover how freeing it feels to not be enmeshed in other people's mess.

4. Build up your mental health immune system. Whether you have an official diagnosis or not, the holiday season is a good time to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. During the holidays, society tends to be more comfortable talking about dieting and weight management than mental illness, but it is important to make mental health prevention, recovery and treatment a priority during the holidays. Since every one of us has a brain, every one of us is susceptible to mental illness, a type of neurological brain disease. Build up your mental health immune system by getting a mental health check-up as a holiday gift to yourself.

5. Find your mental health sanctuary. We all need places where we feel unconditional acceptance and support. This is what I mean by the word sanctuary, a hopeful place of belonging and peace. It is a safe place for us mentally. Your sanctuary could actually not be a place at all, not a physical location, but a person. Whoever or whatever it is that gives you inner peace and calm, name it, claim it, and go there... like, a lot. For some this holiday season, sanctuary might be a bed at a psychiatric treatment center, a counselor's office, a 12-step meeting, a house of worship, or grandma's living room. There is no shame in having a mental illness. There is no shame in seeking a mental health sanctuary during the holiday season. Find your mental health sanctuary and experience inner healing.

My family has experienced some of our most difficult mental health struggles during the holiday season. As I write about in my book Blessed Are The Crazy: Breaking the silence about mental illness, family and church, my brother Scott spent one Christmas season in an acute psychiatric hospital after he attempted suicide. I hope these five tips help you and your loved ones have a mentally-healthy holiday season.

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