There are many reasons for feeling down, depressed, stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed during the holidays.
From the pressure of family gatherings and gift-giving to feelings of loneliness or loss to feeling emotionally spread too thin and overbooked with social commitments, the holidays can take a severe toll on our mental health.
In fact, over 38 percent of people surveyed felt increased levels of stress, depression, and anxiety during the holiday season, according to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association.
Those people also reported more substance abuse during the holidays due to mental health struggles.
Another study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that for people with diagnosed mental health disorders, their symptoms and struggles worsened during the holidays.
The good news is that these statistics seem to be improving. A recent study conducted by Sesame, a healthcare marketplace, found that two in five Americans experience worsened mental health during the holidays, which is down from three in five in 2021.
So, how can you stay sane this holiday season? Pretending your feelings don’t exist won’t work, saying “yes” to everyone, and everything won’t work, putting on a fake smile and suffering through the pain won’t work, and ignoring your holiday triggers definitely will not work. You need to be kind to yourself.
You need to be self-aware. And you need to focus on your own needs so you can enjoy the holiday season and protect your health through it all.
Take a Break
When you need a moment or a bit of space from your family and friends, simply excuse yourself and say you need a break. Acknowledge how you feel, be open about it when reaching your boiling point, and step back and breathe before things blow up. Giving yourself a break will be your best gift this year. There is no shame in rebooting, regrouping, breathing, and then jumping back in when you’re ready.
Ask for Help
If one of the sources of stress or anxiety is that you’ve taken on too much and your plate is too full, then ask others to pitch in. Those who really care will always be willing to help and are probably eager to carry some of your load. And by tackling responsibilities together and tag-teaming your to-do list, not only will more get done faster, but everyone will feel less stressed and anxious, so you have time to experience the joy of the season.
Don’t wait until the last minute to plan a meal, buy your gifts, wrap presents, send out holiday cards, deliver holiday tips, etc. Schedule days for gift shopping, allot time for meal prep and party decorations, make lists (and check them twice) and make sure everyone in your family knows your schedule, so no unforeseen matters (“mom, can you help me with this…”) arise when you’re already busy.
Be Realistic About Your Capabilities
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Committing to too many tasks or responsibilities at once can make you feel overwhelmed and set yourself up to fail. No one can be everything to everyone. Delegate. Say no. Consider what you can realistically accomplish and only commit to that.
Two Words: Self-Care
According to Jennifer Guttman Psy.D., many of our mental health issues during the holidays arise because we neglect self-care, leading to burnout. Simple things like getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness, doing something for yourself (think exercise, strength, read, do yoga, take a walk), and setting boundaries can help you experience less resentment and stress during the holidays. Plus, you’ll feel more satisfied and at peace as you work through your holiday commitments.