The art of maintaining your zen this holiday season 🤍
Under the Covers
Looking for ways to maintain your zen this holiday season? Read on for advice for holistic techniques from Dr. Sheva Assar, licensed clinical psychologist.
How did your passion for mental health & wellness begin?
From a young age, I deeply valued my relationships and experienced the positive impact that our relationships can have on our overall well-being and mental health. As I pursued graduate training in psychology, I continued to be fascinated by the daily practices necessary to have healthy, fulfilling relationships with others, as well as supportive and intentional relationships with ourselves. I noticed that focusing on our inner talk, emotions, behaviors, and relationships with ourselves and others can have a powerful impact on our overall wellbeing and course of our life. I’ve found this to be empowering as there is a great amount that we can do everyday to take care of ourselves and our emotional wellbeing, regardless of past experiences and stressors.
I am passionate about helping others support their overall mental health and wellness as I believe that the relationship we have with ourselves and the daily actions we engage in can help us in not only feeling better, but also living a life that is more fulfilling and aligned with our values.
In your opinion, how important is sleep for mental health?
Sleep is incredibly important and can influence how we feel, think, behave, energy levels, and nearly all areas of our lives! When I haven’t slept enough, I typically experience some negative impact the next day. In general, mental health concerns can contribute to greater sleep-related difficulties; however, sleep difficulties can also contribute/worsen mental health concerns.
Thus, in my personal life and clinical work, I tend to focus on both the quality and number of hours of sleep per night, as well as focus on ways to promote sleep quality and experience to ensure emotional and physical wellbeing. I find that good quality sleep can serve as a protective strategy from other forms of emotional distress.
What is the most important reason for managing stress for overall health?
Stress when it is unmanaged/too high can negatively impact our experience within nearly all areas of our lives (e.g., relationships, work), as well as mental and physical health. When we’re feeling too stressed/overwhelmed, it often contributes to some type of emotional distress, changes in our thinking (e.g., more worry thoughts), and often leads us to behaviorally respond in ways that ultimately do not serve us. However, when we are consistently using effective stress management techniques, as well as regularly attending to our emotional wellbeing and stress levels, it can be easier for us to prevent our levels of stress from getting to a point of causing significant distress and supporting ourselves in overcoming life stressors with greater ease.
Ultimately, stressors are inevitable and a part of life, but learning how to effectively manage them can be incredibly helpful in both our immediate coping and long-term ability to be resilient and live satisfying lives.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about maintaining mental health?
The biggest misconception about maintaining mental health that I notice is around the impact of our daily actions and self-care activities on our immediate and long-term emotional wellbeing. I find that often times self-care is viewed as an “add-on” to our lifestyles, versus as a way to intentionally prevent and promote our wellness.
There are fundamental ways that we can maintain and prioritize our mental health through daily engagement in various wellness activities, even if we may not always immediately experience the positive impact. For instance, some basics of self-care, such as setting boundaries, practicing self-compassion, exercising, are effective ways to take care of ourselves; however, people may not realize how much these basic activities can help and support them in the moment and long-term.
Additionally, when focusing on taking care of our mental health (similar to our physical health), it is an on-going process in which we are regularly learning, modifying, and growing to reach our optimal level of wellness and live a fulfilling, value-aligned life.
Do you have any advice or best practices for maintaining your inner peace & well-being during this time of year?
I find it can be incredibly helpful to engage in the simple practice of checking in with oneself about stress triggers and needs prior to and during the holiday season and various activities. Some questions to consider include, “What do I need to feel my best during the holidays? What do I need to be behaviorally doing/not doing to support my wellness? Are there activities/people that tend to trigger my stress?” The simple practice of checking in prior and during holiday festivities can give you a chance to realistically assess what you’re needing and proactively identify coping skills to reduce the impact of stressors.
Secondly, dedicate time each day (even if it’s just a few minutes) to engage in self-care that is just for you- this can be your alone time, especially if most of your time is with family and friends. Self care for me is an activity that is rejuvenating to you on an emotional and/or physical level and supports your overall wellbeing. To increase the likelihood of you following through on this activity, consider identifying a block of time on a regular basis that is simply for your self care and protect that time on your schedule.
Finally, practicing gratitude and self compassion can be especially valuable during this time. Identifying a few things/people/activities/opportunities that you are fortunate to have within your life during this time can provide you with a more accurate and holistic understanding of your experiences, even in moments of stress. Additionally, during moments of stress, many of us tend to be hard on ourselves. Instead, intentionally practicing self-compassion and treating ourselves like we would a loved one in a similar situation can help us in maintaining wellbeing and receiving the support that we deserve.
These practices can be beneficial in reducing the negative impact of the stressors, as well as promoting more positive emotions and confidence in coping with our current experiences.
What do you think is the key to letting go of the expectation of it being “the most wonderful time of year” and truly enjoying & embracing the season?
I believe the key to letting go of expectations comes down to mindset and shifting our perspectives of what the holiday season needs to be like. For instance, unrealistic expectations that we must have the “perfect experience” can add significant pressure on us and contribute to more distress when we experience normal difficulties. Instead, having a more realistic perspective of the holiday season and recognizing that it will likely include favorable and at times unfavorable moments can help us in being more prepared for what to expect, as well see it as part of the holiday process rather than a difficulty that is unique to us.
Secondly, it could be beneficial to consider the factors that would make the holiday season enjoyable and fulfilling to you, in order to have a clear path of the actions that proactively want to take to increase the likelihood of you having the experience that you’re actually wanting. For instance, consider asking yourself, “What would make my experience ‘good enough?’ What do I definitely want to be part of my holiday experience to ensure that I feel most satisfied?”
Finally, focus on what is going well. Our minds often focus on what is outside of our control and/or not going well, which can contribute to more distress for us; however, it’s important to regularly remind ourselves of the aspects of the holiday season that are to our liking to help in shifting our perspective and having an accurate understanding of our experience.
Do you have any simple practices throughout the day for recentering yourself?
I absolutely love using my gratitude journal in the morning. It helps me to shift my perspective and reminds me of the beauties and opportunities, even in moments of stress. I also engage in deep breathing exercises throughout the day to help me in feeling a greater sense of calm throughout my body and mind, as well as grounding me to the present moment. I take brief breaks throughout the day to simply just be with myself and have a moment of silence, as well as engage in activities that are fulfilling and rejuvenating. I especially enjoy hiking and find that it helps me physically, as much as mentally!
Dr. Sheva specializes in working with adults from various clinical and cultural backgrounds, with a specific interest in the areas of self confidence, social anxiety, and relationships. Dr. Sheva believes that the relationship that we have with ourselves, particularly how we think and respond to ourselves, is the foundation for our relationships with others. She is passionate about destigmatizing mental health and promoting the dialogue around self care and effective wellness strategies.
Learn more about Dr. Sheva on her Instagram @drsheva and at www.drshevaassar.com.