With the end of the year upon us, successfully managing mental health and the holidays can be overwhelming for many of us.
We imagine feelings of joy, happiness, love, and gratitude, but in truth, the holidays can be incredibly stressful for many people and often trigger symptoms of depression, anxiety, or even addiction.
If you’re not feeling particularly cheery or have never felt overly joyous during the holidays, you’re not alone and it’s perfectly normal.
The sheer amount of “holiday happiness” thrown at us by the media and in public places can be debilitating for a lot of people.
The financial aspect of purchasing gifts, scheduling parties to attend, end of year work or school deadlines, travel, and gatherings with friends and family can really pile on the stress.
Needless to say, the holidays are a lot to deal with.
The challenge can be even harder for people battling mental health issues or substance use issues, as well as for those trying to stay true to their recovery.
Statistics for the Holidays and Mental Health
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people who struggle with mental health and the holidays say this time of year makes their condition worse.
Add to that, the lack of sunlight during the latter part of the year has as many as 10 million Americans struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This can amplify feelings of depression, cause mood swings, and sap a person’s energy.
It’s important to note the “myth” of increased suicide rates during the holidays. In fact, there’s substantial evidence that rates of depression and suicide are not tied to the holidays and do not increase during this time, despite the media’s focus on such stories.
Even though suicide rates may actually be low during the holidays, stress and anxiety are still very real for many people.
Fortunately, there are ways to navigate the holidays and mental health to keep stress levels in check.
Here are 10 Tips for Managing Mental Health and the Holidays
There are so many ways to practice good mental health during the holidays, or any time of the year.
Some work better than others and each person is different, so it’s important to find the ones that are most effective and focus on those.
Here are suggestions that have worked well for others and they are timely for end of the year festivities.
Tips for Good Mental Health to Get Through the Holidays
1. Be Practical and Sensible
Don’t expect to be filled with joy just because every commercial says that’s how we should feel at this time of the year. It’s simply not practical or sensible to do what you think you’re “supposed” to do as a result of the holidays.
We may be dealing with a recent loss, struggling with physical health, or coping with a troubled relationship. Whatever the situation, life doesn’t stop happening during the holidays.
2. Protect Your Time
The sheer number of parties and gatherings this time of year can overcome even the most organized people, especially for working couples with professional obligations.
Trying to get to them all can add unneeded stress to our days, so understand it’s okay to decline some invitations.
Yes, this may mean missing a holiday party or two, but that also frees up your time to attend any gatherings that will truly bring joy and surrounds you with people you really care about, and who care about you.
3. Steer Clear of Confrontation or Drama
As an addendum to protecting your time, avoid any social situations where there are potentially bad feelings with others. The worry and fear of going to a social setting where there may be a problem is not worth it.
Certainly, there may be time for healing a damaged relationship, but it is unlikely that it will be at a holiday party where people are drinking and emotions can flare.
4. Don’t Overreach Financially
We all want to be the bearers of beautiful, and sometimes expensive, gifts. That might not be feasible at this particular time though, and that’s okay.
A small, but thoughtful gift or even a handwritten card to someone important to us can be just as inspiring a present as something pricier. The idea that we should take on debt to satisfy what’s often passed off as tradition only causes more stress and worry.
5. Practice Moderation and Don’t Overdo It
Abundance is on full display during the holidays and it can be incredibly easy to stay out late, hit multiple parties in one night, or drink and eat to excess, all of which can lead to feeling sluggish, hung-over, and generally in a bad mood.
Practicing a little moderation can help us protect our overall mental health during the holidays. By not burning the candle at both ends, we’re able to reserve our energy and stay mentally health to make better choices.
6. Stay the Healthy Course
To piggyback on not overdoing it, it’s easy to let go of some of our healthier habits during the holidays, especially if we’re traveling. If at all possible, try to keep a normal and healthy routine.
This doesn’t mean you have to find a gym and workout every day if on the road traveling, but try to get in a brisk walk each day, find a quiet moment to meditate, avoid drinking too much alcohol, and get restful sleep.
7. Have an Exit Plan
If there’s an event you’re obligated to attend for professional reasons, or a gathering you may not particularly want to be at, create an exit plan ahead of time and stick to it.
Make the rounds to speak with everyone you need to see and then leave at the time you set. Let everyone know you have other obligations but wanted to see them, even if it was for a short time.
Another exit plan example may mean preparing transportation for yourself if you plan to drink alcohol while out, so you don’t comprise your own safety or others by driving under the influence.
Making a plan ahead of time for whatever situation you expect to encounter will reduce the stress of dealing with almost any type of situation. This simple approach works well for decreasing unnecessary anxiety.
8. Avoid Isolation
While some people stress over having to see too much of family and friends, others may struggle with not having a large social circle or a close-knit family.
It’s also common for some to shut down during the holidays and “shut in” as a way of avoiding social interaction.
In these cases, it’s healthy to find opportunities to be with others. This may mean volunteering at a local shelter, food bank, or a toy drive for kids. Being of service to others provides an incredible boost to our mental health during the holidays.
9. Set Realistic Expectations
Some individuals experience pressure and stress from hosting family or friends, throwing a party, or being the most decorated house on the block.
Learning to set reasonable and realistic expectations is a productive way to avoid disappointment.
It’s okay if the food wasn’t perfect or not as many people attended our party as we hoped for. These things will be something to laugh about in the years to come, and are not worth worrying about right now.
10. Remember to Take Care of Yourself
If you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issues, remember to take care of yourself during the holidays.
Take steps to stay in your comfort zone, stay on any prescribed medications, and give yourself leeway to feel whatever you feel as it happens.
If the weather permits, get outside for some fresh air, exercise, and sunshine.
This is a good time of the year to continue with yoga, meditation, journaling, or simply focusing on “me time” for you.
Being grateful for the positive things or people in your life is a healthy way to focus on the good while staying clear of the bad.
Avoid Addiction Triggers For Sobriety and Good Mental Health During the Holidays
Struggling with a substance use disorder for drugs or alcohol during the holidays can be especially challenging.
For those already in recovery, particularly early recovery, make it a point to avoid old haunts and problematic friends.
Just because the holidays are upon us, it does not mean a visit home is necessary if there’s a chance it may lead to addiction triggers.
If addiction triggers or cravings do appear, find a sober support group in your area and take the time to go to a meeting whenever possible or check in with a sponsor.
Make sure you have someone you can rely on at all times to call if you’re feeling vulnerable.
Drugs and alcohol actually make stress, anxiety, and depression worse, so avoiding them can help improve mood and make it easier to stay positive with so much happening at this busy time of the year.
The holidays may not be the best time to quit using drugs or alcohol alone without a detox treatment program because withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. But cutting back can certainly make it easier to deal with anxiety or depression.
After the holidays are over and things become more manageable, the timing might be better to begin a program of recovery.
Hopefully these tips for managing mental health and the holidays can make this time of year more enjoyable for anyone prone to the holiday blues.