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Managing Your Mental Health Around the Holidays

Although the holiday season brings plenty of festive joy and cheeriness, it also comes with several unique challenges for our mental health. Whether you’re attending to stressful deadlines at work, experiencing symptoms of sadness from the sunless winter days, or grieving the loss of a loved one, it’s not abnormal for the holidays to cause more stress than most other times of the year. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 64% of individuals living with a form of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.

With a jam-packed social calendar and a long list of to-do items to check off, the pressure to make this season one to remember may be weighing on your shoulders. Fortunately, we have several helpful tips that you can practice over the holidays to help you take control over your stress and allow you to spend more time celebrating family traditions and making new memories with loved ones.

How the Holiday Season Affects Our Mental Health

Although no two people are experiencing the same circumstances that lead to stress or other mental health concerns, there are a few issues that arise more often around the holiday season.

Loneliness and Isolation During the Holidays

While the holidays bring about more parties and family gatherings, there are dangers of becoming isolated throughout this time. Feeling emotionally distant from the people you’re with can result in feelings of loneliness and isolation even in a room filled with people. For those who are predisposed to depression or anxiety, it can be especially challenging to reach out for support.

What To Do About This

One of the ways to help avoid feelings of loneliness or isolation over the holidays is by reminding yourself of the people, places, and things that bring you happiness. Take advantage of the different ways to connect with loved ones this year through Facetime, phone calls, text message, or even holiday cards.

Another great strategy is to focus on your self-care. Creating a daily routine filled with relaxing and enjoyable activities such as reading, meditating, journaling, and exercising can help you feel loved from within.

Financial Stress

Excess holiday spending can become one of the top stressors for many of us throughout this time of year. Staying on a budget can be quite a challenge with the need to shop for food, decorations, gifts, and activities for the family all adding to your yearly spending.

What To Do About This

First and foremost, it’s helpful to recognize that the holidays are so much more than the extravagant decorations and expensive gifts. If purchasing gifts becomes a challenge, consider having a Secret Santa or White Elephant gift exchange to help minimize the cost. You can even put a creative twist on your decorations and gifts with DIY projects.

Feeling Unhappy or Lacking “Holiday Spirit”

No matter how jolly and bright this holiday season may be, feeling unhappy or lacking the holiday spirit can be a common symptom for many of us. With the added pressure to be social, happy, and present, it’s even more difficult to speak up about how you’re truly feeling.

What To Do About This

When you’re feeling down over the holidays, it’s important to acknowledge these feelings as they come and remember that you're not alone. If possible, surround yourself with people who are willing to listen and support you during these times and avoid numbing your emotions with alcohol or food — both of which can worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression.

For those who are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you can improve your symptoms by planning more activities outdoors or near a bright window. Plan new traditions outside by gathering the family for an outdoor nature walk or challenge your friends to a snowman-making contest.

5 Tips to Help You Manage Your Mental Health Around the Holidays

When you’re in the midst of the holiday chaos and begin experiencing sadness, frustration, or overwhelm, it’s beneficial to take a step back to reflect on the things that are in your control. Here are 5 great ways you can do this.

1. Acknowledge your feelings

Feelings of sadness around the holidays are not out of the ordinary. Take time to acknowledge your feelings and accept them for what they are; whether that’s frustration over family dynamics or feelings of grief over the loss of a loved one. Understanding from within that it’s alright to take time to cry and express your feelings can help improve your emotional regulation and keep you from bottling up or suppressing these thoughts.

Here are some strategies to help you with this:

  • Start by identifying these feelings as they come
  • Resist judgment by exercising self-compassion
  • Ask yourself what these feelings are telling you
  • Find a way to express these feelings in a mindful and productive way, such as venting to a loved one, crying in the bathtub, or exercising

2. Create boundaries

The holiday season is a time of year where we spend quality time with friends and family. With this comes work events, family outings, festive dinners, and so much more. Saying yes to the many activities over this season can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. It’s important to create boundaries early to help prevent exhausting yourself with plans. Remember that it’s OK to take breaks from friends and family, even over the holidays — especially when it means you can prioritize yourself and your mental health. 

3. Maintain your healthy habits

Just because it’s the holidays and the temptation to over-indulge is all around you, it’s more important than ever to maintain your healthy habits. Nourishing your body with a well-balanced diet and routine exercise will help you fight stress, improve your mood and give you the energy you need to enjoy the busy holiday season.

With the many holiday parties and social events that come along with this time of year, it’s also beneficial to minimize your alcohol intake. Create your own holiday-inspired virgin beverage instead — your body and mind will certainly thank you (especially the next day).

4. Be realistic

It’s no surprise that there is added pressure for us to make the most out of the holiday season. From buying the perfect gifts for friends and family to organizing the most fabulous holiday party and everything in between. This year, it’s time to let go of any unrealistic expectations and added pressures you place onto yourself and focus on what’s important: spending quality time with your loved ones. Make memories, celebrate traditions, and prioritize the things that bring you joy.

5. Seek professional support

Despite your best efforts, you may still be struggling with feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability, or complete hopelessness. If these feelings continue to persist, it may be time to seek professional support over the holiday season. At On Your Mind Counselling, our team of mental health professionals have the knowledge and skill to help you overcome your unique challenges and help you make the most out of the holiday season. Book a free consultation today.

The Bottom Line

Stress can be the culprit to many of our problems, especially throughout the holidays. At the end of the day, there are several ways in which we can better prepare ourselves and hopefully prevent some of the stress along the way. Although it’s important to recognize that we have more control than we may think, it’s equally important to realize that professional help is available if you’re experiencing persistent feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, or depression throughout the holidays.

Written by Tori Mudie BA, MA, RP, CCC

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