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As students enter the final year of TCU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program in the College of Education, they practice their clinical skills in a 600-hour internship working with clients at various schools, agencies and hospitals in the community. When their professor, Dr. Marcella Stark, asked them about helpful conversations they’ve been having with clients, five students—Linley Freeman, Brooke Hesselbrock, Emily Kitsmiller, Chandler Lotridge, and Macie Ridgley—offered five tips for maintaining mental health over the holidays.

  1. Prioritize what’s important to you.

You may not be able to enjoy every single holiday tradition as you have in the past. It’s okay to be disappointed about that. Acknowledge that loss, but also take time to acknowledge what you CAN do. Which traditions (and people) are most important to you? Which bring you joy and rejuvenation? Which truly represent your best hopes for the season? Ask yourself: If I were to fast-forward to January 2, what would I look back on and be most thankful that I enjoyed or accomplished over the break? Embrace those things that you love most about the season and let the rest go.

  1. Listen to your body.

There is a connection between physical and mental health, which includes what you eat, what you drink, and how you move. Food can impact your mood—pay attention to how you feel as you partake. It’s okay to treat your taste buds a bit, but remember that not all the indulgences of the season involve food or alcohol. Do things that make your body feel good as well—drink lots of water, enjoy a nap, try a yoga or meditation exercise, or take a walk outside. Mindfulness can help you truly enjoy the indulgences of the holidays.

  1. Set boundaries.

Do a check-in with yourself about what you are willing and able to do, and what you are not, given the demands of the season. Holidays bring about a lot of pressure in the best of times, and disagreements on how to handle COVID-19 may increase that pressure this year. There are a variety of perspectives and comfort levels among our loved ones. Consider your boundaries and make plans for how you will communicate them. While others may not fully appreciate your stance, you may be surprised at how good you’ll feel about standing your ground and making the best decision for you.

  1. Have a plan for controversial topics.

From the election to COVID-19 to how much toilet paper you really need to be storing, holiday gatherings may bring disagreement. Pick your battles. While we may not be able to control other people’s words and behaviors, we have a choice about how we respond. When possible, change the topic to something everyone can agree on (e.g., puppies, food). However, there may be some issues for which you feel you must speak up—find a way to do so that feels right to you. Consider using “I” statements to express your view (e.g., I see it differently; When I hear X, I feel . . .). Find your sources of support—preferably allies who are with you at the gathering, but those who are a phone call away if needed.

  1. Congratulate yourself!

As we come to the end of the year and think about New Year’s Resolutions, it may be tempting to think back on what we didn’t accomplish and make plans to try again. Instead, consider what you DID accomplish. You made it through the ups and downs of 2020! How did you do that? Make a list of the things you are grateful for, coping strategies that you found helpful this past year, and all the good things that you want to keep doing next year. Drawing upon these successes will help you discover your preferred future for 2021.

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