5 Expert Tips for a Mental Health Reset This Holiday Season

Mental Health

Hopes are high for this holiday season, especially for the chance to reconnect with loved ones. But even if you don't get to do that in person — finding safe, creative ways to stay connected can boost mental health. Photo: Choreograph/Getty Images

Expectations for the holiday season may never have been so high — though the Omicron variant has put a damper on some plans for celebrating with family and friends.

Still, despite that damper, many may simply be looking forward to a break — from work.

Surveys done monthly by Toronto-based global human resources firm LifeWorks show that nearly one-quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians report that work has hindered their mental well-being during the pandemic — an increase from 20 per cent before the pandemic.

“Look at how much more we’re working,” says Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president, research and total well-being for LifeWorks.

“Those of us working from home have gained that flexibility. yes, but we’ve lost other things, like boundaries. And that laugh you have with a colleague … And some people are quite stressed by all the video calls.”

The holidays offer the perfect opportunity to rest, reset and reconnect. Here are some tips to make the most of it.


Connect — Whatever Way Possible


Our world shrank due to the pandemic in terms of new experiences. And, for most, that included our social circle.

“We saw a huge drop in December 2020,” says Allen of scores on LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index.

It’s no coincidence that pandemic public health measures meant small to no gatherings last holiday season, she reasons.

People who have done better through COVID are those who found a way to stay connected. “Think of it as an adventure rather than a loss, or an absence,” she says of finding creative ways to get together, such as Zooming people in for the holidays. “Find a way to safely connect — period.”

Reframing your reaction from one of limitation to one of opportunity is good advice. And it’s the kind of thing people can learn through cognitive behavioural therapy — therapy that doesn’t feel like therapy, says Allen.

“It feels empowering. And, like skill building, you feel like you’re getting stronger and smarter.”

LifeWorks offers virtual cognitive behavioural therapy through its AbilitiCBT program (options start at $500 and are covered under most benefit plans in Canada), and last year they partnered with the provinces of Ontario and Manitoba to provide the service for free to residents.


Rest — But Not Too Much


Take time over the holidays to slow down, but be careful not to do nothing the entire time.

As does your body, your brain benefits from a diverse diet. Allen recommends doing something creative, even trying out a new recipe can offer our minds much-needed novelty.

“Resting the mind is about what puts your focus in a different direction, and about doing what makes you feel good,” she says.

And keep moving too, for your mind and your waistline.

“We’re not meant to be static, mentally or physically,” she explains. “And physical and mental health are inextricably connected.”


Stop Doom Scrolling


Something you should also give a rest: too much bad news.

Reading negative news prompts a threat response, explains Allen. A rush of adrenaline then stimulates the feel-good hormone dopamine, which explains why we just can’t stop so-called “doom scrolling.”

To wit, one study found that just two to four minutes of scrolling through COVID-related news on Twitter or YouTube led to immediate negative impacts on study participants’ mood and optimism.

Stay informed by the news, but don’t stay long.

“For the most part we’re not getting new news. But the repetition about, say, a new variant, amplifies the negative impact on you and it takes our brains away from variety,” she explains.


Thank You Very Much


Gratitude grounds us, so it’s a great place to start your reset this holiday.

“It’s so healing and restorative. You put yourself in a place where you feel stronger,” Allen says.

“And when you show gratitude, it empowers you and the person to whom you show it.”

That could come in handy back at work after the holidays.

LifeWorks’ data suggests that workplace relationships have deteriorated since the pandemic, with October’s Mental Health Index showing that 10 per cent of Canadians report experiences with co-workers have not been positive — an increase from four per cent since March 2020.


Take It From Me, Kid


Early on in the pandemic, despite being most at risk for severe outcomes from the novel coronavirus, studies showed that older adults were maintaining better mental health.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia, in fact, found that “older age was associated with less concern about the threat of COVID-19, better emotional well-being, and more daily positive events.”

Allen saw this evidenced firsthand.

“I was really surprised to see how well my mom was coping, and I learned from that. Somebody who’s gone before you has a lot to teach you.”

She explains that we build resilience with passing years, and experiences — and younger people can take a cue from their elders.

This too shall pass; an adage Allen’s mother espouses that she took to heart.

It helps her gain perspective, and reminds her to look for the silver lining.

“Through the snow,” she says, “smell the roses.”


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