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If you’re feeling extra stressed, anxious, or depressed as the holiday season approaches, you’re not alone. It might seem counterintuitive since the holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but many people struggle with mental health challenges during this time of year.
According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people experience higher levels of stress during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Lack of time, financial stress, gift-giving, and family gatherings can all contribute to mental health problems during the holiday season, especially as our schedules grow busier and more chaotic with holiday preparations.
Instead of dreading the holidays, you can view the holidays as a valuable opportunity to improve your mental wellness. From loneliness and grief to seasonal depressive disorder, here are some common mental health issues and how you can cope.
Whether you’re celebrating with close friends or family members, being surrounded by cheeriness can feel overwhelming when you don’t share the same level of enthusiasm. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the pressure to interact with others, be happy, and spend time with other people can feel incredibly draining, especially if you have a mental illness. You might also feel left out if your religious traditions aren’t the dominant ones being celebrated this time of year.
What you can do about it: Remind yourself that you don’t have to force yourself to be happy. It’s essential to acknowledge your feelings, even if you’re feeling numb or depressed. Carve out some time for yourself and find healthy coping mechanisms, such as journaling or exercising, to manage negative feelings. Avoid numbing or avoiding feelings with substance use. If you’re not sure where to start, therapy can help you pinpoint triggers in your daily life and navigate those triggers as the holidays approach.
If you’re experiencing grief, loss, or loneliness, the holiday season can exacerbate psychological distress. Seeing other people celebrate the holidays—and comparing your situation to theirs—can increase feelings of loneliness and sadness.
What you can do about it: Whether you’re celebrating alone or with others, take time to check in with yourself. As the holiday season approaches, set realistic expectations. If celebrations seem overwhelming right now, you don’t have to force yourself to celebrate. Instead, prioritize your mental health, consider joining a support group, and reach out for social support from a close friend, family member, or mental health professional.
In the northern hemisphere, the holiday season coincides with the winter’s lack of sunlight. Fewer hours of sunlight and colder temperatures can trigger low mood, lack of motivation, and fatigue. On top of that, the holidays can exacerbate feelings of stress with social gatherings, gift-giving, and the pressure to feel festive.
What you can do about it: Try to get as much natural light as possible. If possible, try scheduling physical activity outside when the sun is the brightest, or work near a window throughout the day. Using light therapy or investing in warm, bright lighting can help boost your mood. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or feelings of hopelessness, reach out to a mental health professional for mental health treatment.
Maybe you love getting into the festive spirit, seeing family members who live far away, and picking out gifts—but your anxiety disorder seems to outshine all of your holiday cheer. Anxiety symptoms might prevent you from feeling comfortable in all the social situations the holidays thrust upon you.
To make things worse, social media can create unrealistic expectations of the holidays, making you feel like you have to participate in every holiday activity. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed by the pressure to participate or the idea of small talk with family members you haven’t seen in a year.
What you can do about it: Take some time to give yourself a pep talk before holiday events. If you’re anxious about small talk, try planning out conversations to prepare for common questions. If possible, volunteer to help the host. By staying busy, you’ll give yourself a sense of purpose, which can help ease the pressure at large gatherings.
Sometimes, holiday stress can feel overwhelming. In a way, managing your holiday stress is a lot like exercise—you need to “keep in shape” and practice your coping strategies regularly to turn them into habits and build resilience. If you need some extra support this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional mental health care.
To find a mental health professional, reach out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We know that therapy can feel intimidating, and we’re here to help you every step of the way, from scheduling your first appointment to defining your mental health goals. Whether you’re experiencing seasonal depressive disorder or social anxiety, one of the compassionate, experienced therapists on the WithTherapy platform will help you navigate your mental health challenges and work toward mental wellness.