The holiday season is upon us, and for many people, this marks a happy time filled with celebration and festivities. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, and New Year celebrations are among some of the upcoming holidays, and while they generally represent and elicit a range of positive feelings such as gratitude, joy, unity, generosity, blessings, and new beginnings, they can bring about some negative emotions as well. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), during the holidays, 59 percent of people report feeling nervous or sad, 55 percent report feeling a lack of motivation and energy, 51 percent report feeling fatigued, and 48 percent report muscular tension.
When thinking of the holiday season, some of the things that may come to mind are time spent with loved ones, travel, holiday parties, cheery music, outdoor winter activities, gift exchanges, fun family traditions, and festive food and drink. While many people experience these seasonal events joyfully, some people may become burdened by the disruption of their regular routine and feel overwhelmed by the expectations associated with celebrating the holidays. For people that are coping with the grief of losing a loved one, the holiday season can be especially difficult. The social activities and traditions that would typically be fun and exciting may exacerbate feelings of sadness and loneliness. For those that are dieting or avoiding alcohol, the holidays can be challenging to navigate because of the temptations and social pressures that can occur around holiday festivities. A primary stressor during the holidays is the financial burden associated with the season. Buying gifts, traveling, decorating, and hosting parties are expenses that can have a substantial financial impact, and people may find themselves in a significant amount of debt or stressed with the concern of how to make ends meet. Many of these activities also require a great deal of time and coordination, which some may find tiresome and overwhelming. Furthermore, in many places the holidays coincide with harsh winter weather, and the cold temperatures, snow, and lack of sunlight can all have a negative effect on your mood and well-being. There are an estimated 10 million Americans who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a recurrent major depressive disorder with symptoms most commonly occurring in the fall or winter months.
Though there are various possible sources of stress associated with the holiday season, many of them are encompassed by high and sometimes unrealistic expectations. Whether it’s being expected to participate in social events when you’re feeling depressed, spending more money than you can afford, or overcommitting to responsibilities that will lead you to feel overwhelmed, it’s important to take a mental and emotional inventory to make sure that you are not taking on more than you can handle. Self-care should be practiced throughout the entire year, but even more so during the holiday season as a protective factor against negative thoughts and emotions. Please also keep in mind that others may be struggling, and take the time to check-in with those close to you to ensure that they are managing their mental health.
Below are some helpful tips for managing your mental health this holiday season:
- Be realistic
- Stick to a budget
- Plan ahead
- Learn to say no
- Seek professional help if needed
- Do something for someone else
- Enjoy free activities
- Eat and drink in moderation
- Spend time with supportive and caring people
- Get enough sleep
- Stick to your normal routine as much as possible
- Get physical exercise
- Challenge yourself with an intellectual activity
- Spend time in the sun
Holiday Depression & Stress | Mental Health America of Wisconsin
Managing Your Mental Health During The Holidays | National Alliance on Mental Illness
Beat Back the Holiday Blues | National Alliance on Mental Illness
Seasonal Affective Disorder | Psychology Today