December 23, 2015

Taking care of you: the holiday edition

U of A trees in Quad - photo by Andy Grabia
The holidays can often be filled with stress and anxiety. The U of A Community Social Work Team shares their advice on self-care during the holiday season. 

For many, this time of year is traditionally a time of celebration, a break from the busyness of life, and an opportunity to see friends and family. While many of us will be enjoying holiday traditions, events, and activities, this can also be a challenging time. For a significant number of individuals, the holiday season can be filled with stress, tension, isolation, and loneliness. There are a number of reasons why this happens, and it is important to be aware that these challenges exist, so that if we begin to feel stressed or lonely, we can be better prepared to get through it.

Here are a few ways to take care of ourselves during this time, to focus on and contribute to our mental well-being, and to ensure that the holiday season is a time of connection and meaning.

Connect with others.
Often, there are lots of events to attend throughout the holiday season. However, that does not necessarily mean that we are actually connecting with others in meaningful ways. Connection often takes intentional effort. Phone a friend or family member, get in touch with someone you miss or haven’t seen in a while, or take initiative by extending an invitation to do something meaningful or enjoyable with others. Finally, be present to those you are with and the moments you are enjoying together. 

Give to others.
There are many ways to volunteer and get involved throughout the holiday season. Volunteering in big or small ways is not only appreciated and needed at this time, but a great way to improve your mental well-being. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with volunteering and in giving to others, and even allows you to form new social connections.

Be active.
Exercise is one of the best things we can do to take care of ourselves physically as well as mentally. While there is less known about the effects of exercise on the mind compared to the body, exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, and to improve mood, concentration, alertness, and our overall sense of well-being. Exercise is not just about preventing poor mental health or treating mental health challenges, but also the promotion of good mental health and well-being.

Enjoy the outdoors.
True, it is cold outside – and dark, and often wet, slushy, or icy. But it can also be beautiful and refreshing. There are many outdoor activities to enjoy in winter during the holiday season, including an abundance of beautiful walking paths through the river valley or parks, and places to go skating and cross-country skiing. Getting out in the sunshine and crisp air is an enjoyable part of winter in Edmonton - even with the cold. Use this winter as an opportunity to make the most of the season or at least try and get outdoors for a few minutes each day.

Get the rest you need.
Make sure to relax, sleep, and do whatever you need to do to feel recharged and re-energized. It is easy to transition from a busy work or school schedule into a busy holiday schedule without taking the time we need to take care of ourselves first.

Whatever you take part in, we hope you enjoy this time of year and take care of your mental well-being. Also,
if you are feeling alone or overwhelmed, know that support is available to you. Early in the New Year, reach out to services on campus by calling the Dean of Student's office at 780-492-4145 and they will help to direct you appropriately.

Even though the U of A will be closed from Monday, December 26, 2016 to Monday, January 2, 2017, you are not alone. No matter where you will be, you have access to formal and informal supports. If you are in the Edmonton area and needing support, please call the Edmonton Support Network 24-hour line at 780-482-4357.  If you will be elsewhere in Alberta, contact the Alberta Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.

Have we missed anything? Please share your tips for making the most of the winter break in the comments section.

(This post first appeared December 19, 2014 and has been recently updated.)