Guide to Managing Your Mental Health Around the Holidays
Elvis once crooned about feeling blue at Christmas time—and we’re here to tell you: It’s perfectly normal to feel that way.
There are a variety of reasons why your days may not be merry and bright around the holiday season. It can be the jam-packed social calendar, deadlines at work, the loss of a loved one, sunless winter days, or all of the above.
According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. The reasons given: lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and family gatherings.
To make matters worse, the National Alliance on Mental Illness noted that 64% of individuals living with a mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.
However, there are ways in which we can prepare ourselves and hopefully deflect some of the increased stress of the holidays. It’s important to realize that we do have more control than we think we do. However, it’s equally important to realize that even if we put these ideas into practice and continue to feel overwhelmed or depressed, professional help is available.
We’ve identified six common issues that come up this time of year, as well as suggestions from our mental health experts for ways to address them.
1. You’re Lacking the “Holiday Spirit”
Being surrounded by cheeriness can be stigmatizing when you don’t feel the same level of enthusiasm as others.
The pressure to be social, happy, and present can make it difficult to speak up if you feel otherwise. You may also feel left out if your spiritual traditions aren’t the dominant ones on display this time of year.
What You Can Do About It
- Recognize that you don’t need to force yourself to be happy and that it’s good to acknowledge feelings that aren’t joyful; remember that you are not alone in feeling this way
- Avoid numbing or avoiding feelings by using alcohol or other substances, which worsen anxiety and depression
- If possible, surround yourself with people who feel similarly; celebrate your traditions or create new ones
According to Elsa Ronningstam, PhD, a psychologist at McLean Hospital, “It’s important to understand that triggers for holiday angst come from many sources. Memories, stressful patterns that seem to occur every holiday, or potential new crises are common triggers,” she said.
Ronningstam added that preparing yourself by understanding how different triggers affect you can help reduce stress. Additionally, by finding out why you become anxious or sad around the holidays, you may be able to navigate the rest of the season.
Pushing Back Against Feelings of Loneliness
Feeling alone can be especially hard to handle during the holidays. Dr. Lisa Coyne helps us push back against feelings of loneliness. Watch the Video
2. You’re Overwhelmed by Grief and Loss
If you are living with grief, loss, trauma, or loneliness, it can be easy to compare your situation to others’, which can increase feelings of loneliness or sadness. Take time to check in with yourself and your feelings and have realistic expectations for how the holiday season will be.
If you are dealing with loss or grief, gently remind yourself that as circumstances change, traditions will change as well.
What You Can Do About It
If holiday observances seem inauthentic right now, you do not need to force yourself to celebrate. During this time, connect with and plan to check in with a support group, a therapist, a faith community, or friends who understand.
As much as possible, let your loved ones know how they can support you, whether it’s helping you with shopping or meeting up for a regular walk. Often, people want to help but don’t know what to say or where to start.
To finish reading this article by Putting People First in Mental Health, use this LINK and get additional resources for your chapter.