by Lara Schuster Effland, LCSW

Lara Schuster Effland

The air is getting crisp and the days are getting short. The early days of fall and those first holiday-shopping commercials are the initial signs of excitement and splendor to come, as well as more to-do lists, deadlines, and social pressures.

But you can learn how to maintain your mental health and keep content during the holiday season. Read on for one interesting example.

When the winter sun in Norway doesn’t rise above the horizon, the days are short and dimly lit. So the Norwegians take the opportunity to create koselig, or a cozy way of living. This tradition means getting under a blanket with a cup of tea and enjoying your time with family and friends peacefully. And koselig must be working: Norwegians have astonishingly low rates of seasonal affective disorder and depression rate during the winter.

Factors: Protective and Vulnerability

When you approach the months of holiday stress and cheer, it’s helpful to consider two factors that may affect your mindset. Protective factors are the things you have going for you that build strength and resilience. Vulnerability factors are things that can hinder your ability to cope, and they can be internal and external.

The Norwegians are able to create protective factors by appreciating the longer time with others in circumstances we might think of as less than ideal. They turn potential vulnerability factors, such as colder weather and darker days, into protective factors by embracing them and transforming them into moments of comfort and fond memories.

Tips to Thrive Through the Holidays

When you’re struggling with a mood or anxiety disorder, the holidays can seem dominated by vulnerability factors. Chances are you’re not in Norway, so these strategies to help you this holiday season. They are inspired by dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, which provides valuable ways to help you manage emotional vulnerability and environmental stressors. (Learn about DBT and other forms of therapy.)

  • Set limits: Decide how long you can stay at a party or your parents’ house, and stick to your plan.
  • Set a daily schedule: Try to plan your day to balance activities when you are with others and activities when you are alone. Also, maintain a consistent sleeping schedule to make sure you’re at your best physically and emotionally.
  • Cope ahead: Preparing for the worst-case scenarios can help when tackling challenging work or family gatherings.
  • Meaning: Discover your own meaning for the holidays by asking yourself what you appreciate most (such as making your grandmother’s favorite recipe or going for a walk in the park you enjoyed as a child) and make sure that you focus on it.
  • Effective environments: Choose people and places to spend most of your time with that add to your overall mental well-being, rather than deplete and challenge it. You can withstand difficulty for short periods of time, but prolonged periods of stress can quickly compromise your recovery.
  • Take care of you: Refrain from mood-altering substances; take medication as prescribed; connect with others; rest; and find enjoyment in your activities.

Your health will benefit you and everyone around you, and you will thank yourself when the clock strikes midnight New Year’s Eve. Congratulations! Not only will you have survived, but you will have thrived this holiday season.

Lara Schuster Effland, LCSW, is the Vice President of the Mood and Anxiety Program and Residential Services at Insight Behavioral Health Centers of Chicago. Ms. Effland clinically specializes and trains others in dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness-based therapies, exposure and response prevention, and trauma treatment.