Manage your expectations to remain mentally healthy through the holidays |

Manage your expectations to remain mentally healthy through the holidays

Kirsten Dobroth
Special to the Daily
Time with family can be tough, and it's okay to think that. Carve out some time during this busy season for yourself to focus on your needs.
Special to the Daily | iStockphoto

Looking for extra support?

• Being Joy, a meditation workshop with Karen Anderson, 5:30 p.m. Dec. 21, Vail Vitality Center,

• Holiday Happiness, an eight-week webinar and class with guidance on fitness, food and mental health, starting Nov. 9-10, 303-717-0801,

• ANAD Self-Help/Support Group for Eating Disorders, starting Dec. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Vail Interfaith Chapel,

• Conscious Transformation, a free class for meditation and mindfulness,

• An Undefended Heart, a 30-day online, guided meditation course,

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series on mental health care. Visit to read more about mental heath resources in the Vail Valley.

The holiday season is widely regarded as a time to eat, drink, be merry and reconnect with family and friends, and while that’s true for many people, it can also be a time that many others are prone to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health-related issues.

Using the offseason as a time to create productive daily habits, plan a holiday that suits your individual schedule and look for more in-depth avenues of support are powerful tools to not just get through the holidays, but to thrive during the season.

Managing expectations

“The days are shorter, and it’s actually a really great time to turn inward and focus on cultivating what’s important to you and cultivating some inner stability.”Karen AndersonYoga teacher

There always seems to be big expectations that revolve around the holidays — who we see, what we do, what we eat — that can create stress, anxiety and depression for many people around the country.

This stress can often be magnified in the Vail Valley by working long hours through the holidays, having family visiting from out of town or not being able to spend as much time on personal needs. We often collectively think that the holidays need to be perfect, which can create unrealistic expectations and lead to more pronounced disappointment when things don’t go according to plan.

Jessica Waclawski is a social worker and relationship therapist and owns a private practice in Eagle-Vail. She explained that having realistic expectations going into the holidays, and being flexible to developing a holiday plan that’s actually feasible, is an important step to avoid unnecessary let downs and take some of the stress out of the day.

“There’s all these pressures of what the holidays should be,” she said. “Life happens and we have to adjust to what’s happening; this season really reflects that — there’s just more pressure to do it perfectly.”

Finding time for you

While it might seem intuitive to put your own personal schedule on the back burner until after the holiday season, finding the time to meet individual needs is an important part of staying sane during this busy time of year.

Kara Wickman is a personal trainer in the area and will be leading a holiday happiness class with Waclawski and local nutritionist Penny Wilson, Ph.D. She explained that adjusting expectations of physical fitness during this hectic time is important for fitting in “you time” while also nourishing connections with others during the holiday season.

“Understand that times will be busier and adjust accordingly to be creative in how we fit movement in,” she said “Taking that time for movement, even if it looks differently than it normally does, will clear your head and allow you to be more mentally available and to be truly present with your friends and family.”

Karen Anderson is a yoga teacher and leader of guided meditation in the Vail Valley and said that using the offseason as a time to work on habits of mindfulness — be it in the form of yoga, meditation or simply spending 10 minutes a day with the phone turned off — can make it easier to meet personal needs during the holiday season, as well.

“The days are shorter, and it’s actually a really great time to turn inward and focus on cultivating what’s important to you and cultivating some inner stability,” she said, “I think in the fall, we have the time to turn our intentions toward what’s important to us, and right around Christmas and New Year’s, most of us are working nonstop, and that’s when we need the momentum the most of having practiced in November.”

Addressing bigger problems

And while the holidays leave many of us more prone to stress and anxiety around busy schedules, it can also be a time that causes deeper, more underlying problems to surface.

“A lot of people have not-so-great memories from growing up,” Waclawski said. “Maybe they have some trauma come back up during that time because they have memories that aren’t necessarily positive.”

Other triggers, such as being newly sober, having a newly diagnosed food allergy or having an eating disorder can be complicated during a season that often revolves around eating and drinking. Jill Zimmerman Rutledge, a psychotherapist in Avon who specializes in eating disorders, said the holiday season, in particular, can be a difficult time for people with food-related mental health issues.

“The holidays can create a tremendous amount of anxiety, and family dynamics can be stressful, and the expectation that there will be special holiday foods can be very scary for people who are fearful for gaining weight,” she said.

Joining a support group or attending a group meeting can help foster a more positive dialogue surrounding these stresses and fears, and is a powerful way find others to connect with, as opposed to retreating toward more destructive behavior patterns. Changing the conversation around the holidays can be a powerful way to take control of the holiday season and all the stresses that go along with it.

“Shift the perception of ‘getting through the holidays’ to creating what you desire,” Waclawski said. “Let’s embrace the ability to figure out what’s doable and create your day.”

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