In the midst of the holiday season, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by emotions, seeking ways to control our mental/behavioral health symptoms while also dealing with those of our family and friends.

Behavioral health refers to actions we take such as daily habits, routines, and other behaviors. Mental health refers to our emotions and thought patterns that impact our well-being.

Navigating the holidays, it’s helpful to regulate our internal systems by acknowledging our feelings, emotions, and thoughts. It’s common to experience varied emotions such as happiness, sadness, loneliness, grief, peace, or anxiety.

We may feel anxious about time with family due to hurt or loss, look toward family gatherings as an opportunity to be with those who make us feel safe, or experience a combination of emotions. While planning for how we will spend time with family and friends, it’s a good idea to make a plan for your emotional experiences just as you plan for the dish you will prepare

  • Make time to check in with your own emotions. Feelings are not right or wrong, however, our behaviors can either be nurturing or disruptive. Take time to understand exactly why you’re feeling the way you are in order to work through your feelings, instead of being reactive to them.
  • Make space to welcome emotions. Our breath is a resource to regulate our body. Slowly breathe in and out of your nose, allowing your breath to flow naturally until you notice your body and your emotions begin to soften.
  • What are our expectations of how this holiday/family gathering should go? From where did we get those expectations? Not unlike airbrushed models in fashion magazines and the misleading versions of life seen on social media, our ideas about family life and the holidays can be offcenter. Consider the different personalities of those we hold dear before deciding how best to connect with them. If we have a picture in mind of family gatherings going a certain way, we may miss the subtle moments of connection that also hold meaning.
  • Ask for what we need. Practicing self-care isn’t selfish, and it’s okay to ask for help when you need it!
  • Seek to find peace with imperfection. Peace with imperfection means recognizing that no family, relationship, or situation is ideal. All people are, by nature, imperfect. Healthy boundaries help us be clear-headed about the difference between imperfections and deal breakers.
  • Have compassion while also setting boundaries. We often may care for and understand those that harm us, but we are not obligated to subject ourselves to situations that are not safe for us or that do not feel good. If a situation is not right for us, we may choose not to participate or make alternative plans. Being invited doesn’t mean we have to go!

We tend to look at life as a dichotomy of good or bad, but life is complex. Most relationships are good with some bad sprinkled in, or maybe the other way around. The same is true of our experiences. Holiday gatherings are generally a culmination of the multiplicity of emotions. When we practice tuning into our mental health, we may effectively regulate our behaviors.

Approach this season from a place of behavioral and mental health by taking time to check in with and welcome your emotions, and be aware of your expectations. Ask for what you need, find peace in imperfect moments, maintain good boundaries, and always remember compassion. Happy Holidays!

For more information or to make an appointment, email Michelle R. Johns at (affiliate
of Christina Burns, LPC-MHSP, CEDS-S, CCTP) or call 901.206.3998.

Written by Michelle R. Johns, MA, T-LPC-MHSP
and Christina Burns, LPC-MHSP, CEDS-S, CCTP