Holidays & Mental Health: How to Cope

By: Samantha Davis, M.S., LPC - School-Based Manager and Shrewsbury Outpatient Manager

It's almost time to switch from my everyday anxiety to my festive Christmas anxiety

According to the well known song by Andy Williams, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, or is it? It’s probably no surprise, when we consider all of the demands and stressors. For many people the Holiday season leads to increased feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness. If you find yourself or loved ones struggling with these symptoms, there are some healthy strategies for managing in order to enjoy the Holidays.

  1. Plan-Planning will help to set limits and create a stronger sense of control. Decide in advance which events to participate in being sure to take into account what is healthy for you. For example, if going to Aunt Sally’s yearly gift exchange makes you cringe and stress with just the mere thought of attending, then skip it and attend a more enjoyable event instead. It is healthy to set limits and say “No” if that means less stress and improved overall mental health. Planning which events to attend in advance will also make your calendar more manageable.
  2. Budget-Spending can be at an all time high during the Holidays whether that’s spending on travel or gifting. Decide in advance how much you are comfortable spending and stick to it. Consider setting spending limits for gift exchanges or get creative and give homemade gifts. This will reduce financial stressors and the unexpected costs associated with the Holiday season.
  3. To Do List- Creating a to do list will help you to prioritize and manage tasks during this busy time of the year. Hopefully, a list would prevent that last minute run to the crowded store that ultimately leads to panic.
  4. Be Flexible- Most people have a preconceived expectation of how the Holidays are “suppose to be” based on previous years or perhaps media portrayals. When that expectation is not met it leads to feelings of disappointment and even loneliness. Be mindful of your expectations by evaluating if they are realistic for current circumstances. This may be a good opportunity to set new, healthier expectations of the Holiday season.
  5. Mindfulness-Although it may be tempting, don’t eat your feelings this Holiday season. Instead, set aside some time to become aware of your feelings surrounding the Holidays. This self awareness will help you to recognize triggers and allow for processing time. Many find themselves thinking of lost loved ones this time of year. This is normal. Allow time to experience those feelings in a healthy manner and celebrate that loved one with a new tradition. Consider volunteer work to increase feelings of connectedness to the community and reduce feelings of loneliness.
  6. Supports-Don’t try to cope alone. Reach out to your natural supports such as friends, family and even co-workers. If needed, consider seeking professional support through a mental health provider.

Don’t let the negative symptoms ruin the Holidays. Learn to recognize triggers and embrace the positive experiences associated with this time of year.