As 2020 winds down and the holidays approach, many of us are ready for a break from this challenging year. The holidays can offer that rest, but often bring added pressure on your mental health. Here are my top 10 tips for how to respond to the stress and embrace the joy of the holidays. 

1. Keep it simple. If there was ever a year to keep things simple, 2020 is the year to do it. Keep holiday decorating and entertaining simple and easy.

2. Set realistic limits. Many people set unrealistic expectations and try to do too much during the holidays. Identify what’s most important to you and focus on those things. 

3. Focus on quality, not quantity. To protect yourself and your family members, identify a small number of people in your circle that it's safe to interact with and focus on your relationships with them. Explore new ways to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with them. 

4. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do. It’s been a year of setting limits and not doing a lot of what we enjoy doing. Focus on the things you enjoy and do them safely and wholeheartedly. 

5. Say “no” to the things that don’t bring you joy. Many of us have people and things in our lives that create more stress than joy. This is the year to say a firm “no” to those things. Saying "no" to the stress creates room for us to say “yes” to the things that bring us joy. 

6. Feel the feelings. This may seem counterintuitive, but allow yourself to grieve the losses and challenges of this unique year. “We can’t heal it until we feel it” is a statement often made by mental health professionals. When we allow ourselves to grieve and feel sad about our experiences, we are often able to make more room for the joy in other parts of our lives. Allow yourself to “feel all the feels,” whatever the feelings may be.

7. Get outside. Research shows spending time in nature is good for our mental health. It’s also safer to spend time with others outside. Go for a walk, sit outside, go to the park and/or meet a friend for a physically distanced walk.

8. Include yourself in your circle of caring. Women are prone to neglecting their self-care and focusing more on others' needs than on their own. When you make a list of the things to do for others, add yourself to the list and make time for you.

9. Express gratitude. In the midst of suffering, those who express gratitude often do better than those who don’t. Give thanks for whatever you can, no matter how small it may be.

10 Rest. This year has been exhausting. Take naps and sleep as much as your body needs and as much as you can. 

This list is not intended to be all-inclusive, nor is it intended to be a list of “must-dos” to reduce your stress. Do what works for you. Enjoy the holidays and say, “Goodbye 2020!”


Dr. Catherine Crisp is an associate professor and the coordinator of the Master of Social Work Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She is the only formally trained Mindful Self-Compassion Teacher in Arkansas and leads meditation sessions, workshops and classes throughout the state. She is passionate about helping people develop more self-compassion and be kinder and more gentle with themselves. Information about her upcoming classes and workshops can be found on her website.


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