12 Days of Holidays: Therapy Edition

The holidays are an interesting time. For some the most wonderful time of the year, while others drown in dread of the upcoming months. Expectation paralyzes the perfectionists, while the people pleasers can’t sit still. In a society full of instant gratification, “next best thing”, and micro trends…you might find yourself asking.. When is it all enough? For us high achievers, your automatic response may be, well…Never. In some light, that’s true, when relying on external validation, monetary gifts, and instant gratification. It never will be. Seeking ways to increase the longevity of our well-being, shifting from dopamine (rewards + motivation) hits to stable serotonin (happiness + calm) must be the place to start this holiday season.

Dopamine isn’t bad; what’s concerning is that our brains can get addicted to it by thriving off the thrill of it all. Although it’s enticing, there are additional ways to get a more stable, long-lasting happiness that will last much longer than your peppermint mocha. 

Consider these 12 ways to care for our mental health while battling our need for instant gratification this holiday season.

  • 1. Set an Intention
    • Holidays come and go before we know it, we blink its December 23rd, and you slept through Home Alone, only to wake up to your family snoring on the couch. Yikes. Set the intention for the season. What do you want to do? Who do you want to see? For instance, I intend to “be present”, I long to stay in the moment and avoid tucking my head with my hood up when life gets busy. Identifying the goal and acknowledging the steps to get there will lead to more meaningful, intentional experiences.
  • 2. Holiday Walk to See Christmas Lights
    • Getting in some movement and connecting with others is the perfect way to get the serotonin flowing despite the cold. The holidays can be busy, so take this time to embrace physical activity and shake off some stress. Bundle up, grab some hot chocolate, and embrace your inner child. Act like kids again while admiring the sparkly lights; you can make it fun.  (In the STL area, candy cane lane is a local fav + it’s free).
  • 3. Pet A Reindeer
    • Reindeer or pet (same thing), give them all the attention this season. Not only is it enjoyable, but petting an animal can instantly release both serotonin and dopamine. People also report lower cortisol levels after engaging with pets. Meaning you get the best of both worlds, increased mood, and lower stress levels…What else could you ask for? Tip: At any holiday get-together, identify the dog early on… you never know when you’ll need them later on. 
  • 4. Make A Homemade Holiday Treat
    • Sugar cookies, gingerbread houses, chocolate-covered pretzels, oreo balls, caramel clusters, peppermint bark, you name it, and I’m there. If you can look past the mess you’ll have to clean up after, baking is super therapeutic (as long as it turns out good :/ ). No, it’s all part of the process. Blast some music, put your phone down, and pretend you’re on The Great British Bake Off.  Make it a competition. Report back after, I bet you’ll enjoy it more than you’d think – plus you get a much-needed break from screen time.
  • 5. Mentally Prepare for Family Questions
    • This has been a year, and if you’re anything like me, the thought of my twice-a-year family member asking about my relationship status or employment makes me physically nauseous. Instead, take a moment to reflect on at least three things you’re proud of from this year to share. Being around lots of family, it’s good to have your answers prepared if thinking about the past year’s mental load overwhelms you.
  • 6. Volunteer
    • Although it’s important to practice gratitude daily, putting those thoughts into action by volunteering is different. Being in person, making a human connection, and spreading kindness makes you feel good long term. Just google “volunteering near me” and see what speaks to you.
  • 7. Hand Write Cards
    • Whether you’re giving a gift or simply sending a “thinking about you” note, try to wind it back and write in an old-fashioned card (with a stamp and everything). Handwriting a card takes time, intention, and thoughtfulness, making it more personal than a text, and is a good way to brighten someone’s day. Knowing someone sat down and took the time to think about you is underrated and shows that you really care. 
  • 8. Holiday Movie Night
    • I don’t care how many times you’ve seen Elf or Christmas Vacation, I bet someone in your life would love nothing more to rewatch them with you. The nostalgia and time spent together will be well worth quoting every line. Plus, little you will be SO incredibly happy you never lost the spirit.
  • 9. Random Acts of Kindness
    • Treat yourself to your favorite comfort holiday drink, then take another to a friend to surprise them. Not only do you get to indulge, but you get to brighten their day as well. After, reflect and see which made you happier, your special drink or seeing the smile on their face. Tip: If you can’t find the time to hand deliver the drink, try paying for the person’s drink behind you in line… Often you can start a trend.
  • 10. Embrace the In-Between
    • Light a candle and sit with the moments between events, pressures, and places to be. We don’t need to be stimulated every minute of the day, to condition our brains away from our addictive personalities, we must let ourselves be bored. Just be, sit down, and hang out with no plans. Take it in. Amidst the season’s hustle, moments of solitude can keep you grounded where you need to be.
  • 11. There’s No Such Thing as The Perfect Christmas Tree
    • This time of year, it’s easy to get caught up in the Hallmark movie Christmas phenomenon. Who doesn’t want to romanticize finding your true love in the card isle?  However, ditching the perfectionism of it all can help you find your “normal” by being the most authentic version of yourself. Hitting all the stops and checking off everything on the to-do list doesn’t qualify you for the “perfect Christmas” or “perfect holiday season”, only you can define what that looks like. Think, what do I want to be doing? You can create that reality.
  • 12. Presence Over Presents
    • Listen, I do love a new pair of shoes; however, after the past couple of years of isolation and social distancing, one of the biggest privileges of the year is togetherness. Being face-to-face with others during special times has a new meaning for many. Go to the gathering, smile at strangers, and show up this season. Enjoy those around you, be mindful, and be present while soaking it all in. Happy Holidays.

By Kennedy Baker