The Mental Health Benefits of the Holidays

woman with christmas socks and mug relaxing by fireplace

Often when we talk about the holidays, we tend to focus on the stressors and challenges of this time of year. Nonetheless, the holiday season isn’t all bad, and there are certainly some powerful positive benefits for our mental health this time of year.

It Gives Us Some Much Needed Downtime

For most of us, the holiday season is a period of high stress and represents a strong departure from our regular routines. This disruption can be challenging to manage. On the other hand, it is also a period in which we experience a much-needed escape from our regular obligations and responsibilities.

This downtime can offer us the opportunity to indulge in some leisurely pursuits, like reading a novel that’s been on your “to read” list or finally visiting the local museum exhibit you’ve been thinking about. On a more practical front, this break can also offer you the opportunity to take care of home in ways you may have been neglecting. Maybe the laundry has been sitting around for a little too long or you haven’t gotten to your long chore list such as cleaning the refrigerator or oven.

This break can afford you a little bit more time to do those things you’ve been meaning to get to, whether they’re for fun or household tasks. Completing both can represent self-care and give you a sense of accomplishment that is always good for your mental health.

More Time with Loved Ones

One of the aspects of the holiday season that can be most exciting and affirming is the ability to spend more time with friends and family. We often sacrifice time with the people we love when we are tapped with work or school responsibilities. Sometimes those who are dearest to us aren’t close by throughout the year. Work or school projects can keep us pretty busy, so much so that we don’t always recognize all the time we sacrifice.

Settling down during the holiday season can give you more time to have deeper conversations with loved ones, watch movies, play games or work on some fun projects together. These experiences can help make warm memories you can recall for many years to come.

Improved Creativity and Cognitive Functioning

When we feel less stressed and less burdened by our regular responsibilities, we can experience a great increase in cognitive functioning. Taking a break during the holidays may lead to greater focus and creativity, which means now might be the perfect time to learn something new or start working on a special creative project.

The Holidays Might Actually Make You Physically Better

We all feel great when we take some time away from our regular lives. We feel the relaxation in our bodies and minds as we breathe easier on vacation. There is even some early research that supports the idea that taking vacations actually makes you healthier.

Studies indicate that a two-week holiday break can lower your stress responses and improve sleep quality. It might even increase your libido. While this study was tested on two very specific holiday experiences, such as a trip to an exotic location or a trip focused on volunteerism, the findings might generalize to other holiday circumstances (although more research needs to be done).

There is other research that indicates taking a break from your daily norm produces effects not only while you’re on vacation, but also less stress responses and better mood until about a month after you return.

And Last But Not Least… There’s the Food

Many cultures feature food as a big part of their holiday celebrations. This time of year is certainly booming with a lot of opportunity to enjoy some really tasty meals, and typically with people who hold significance. While we often focus on our concern about overindulgence, holiday feasts can also represent an opportunity to further embrace how our family, culture or religion celebrates by nourishing our bodies and pleasing our taste buds.

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