Happy Holidays to you! You may be thinking, “But wait – the holidays aren’t a happy time for me.” We are very sorry that the holidays are a difficult time for you. We also want you to know that you are not alone. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness says that 64% of people report that their mental illness symptoms are worse during the holidays.
What Causes The Holiday Blues?
There are many factors that could contribute to someone having the holiday blues. According to Web MD, some reasons that people struggle with the holiday blues include:
- Stress: Unless you are living under a rock, we have stress all around us. If you listen to the news or spend too much time on social media, it can make you not want to leave the house. And add, the day-to-day hassles of going to work, paying bills, taking care of your responsibilities, and family – life can be stressful. But, the holidays can be a big stress. Some families have gatherings during the holidays. Planning for and hosting gatherings come with so much stress. This is on top of the stress that comes with “normal” days.
- Fatigue: The holidays and all that they come with can be mentally tiring, and thinking of all the planning for the holidays and how things will happen can be overwhelming.
- Unrealistic expectations: When you are planning for the holidays, they can come with a lot of expectations. Maybe you thought that you would have a new significant other or bundle of joy by now. The holiday is a reminder of what you don’t have, and this can be difficult to accept.
- Over-commercialization: The store has Christmas decorations out during the fall time. Do you know why they do this? Because they know that you will buy. There is this big drive to buy, buy and buy more during the holidays.
- Financial stress: Speaking of a drive to buy more during the holidays… On top of that, as you probably know, we are experiencing inflation. Things cost A LOT more right now, and then the holidays add the stress of not only buying gifts – but the RIGHT gift. In addition, everyone wants to have a dirty Santa event or asks you to donate to their charity.
Missing family and friends: Being away due to college or a new job can be hard to deal with. This can bring on feelings of loneliness.
How Can I Care For My Mental Health During The Holidays?
There are many things that can help you to have improved mental health during the holidays. To get through the holidays, remember:
- Have a plan: First, decide if you even want to celebrate the holidays. Remember, it is just one day [or a few days] and it is ok if you choose not to celebrate. If you decide to celebrate, think about all that will entail. Write down your plan and identify steps that you will take to implement your plan.
- Check your thoughts: Dr David Burns, author of “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”, identified several ways that we find ourselves thinking that can lead to depression or anxiety. He calls these “cognitive distortions”. It is important that you are aware of your thoughts before you go into the holidays. One example of thinking involves “all or nothing” thinking. Earlier, we talked about how unrealistic expectations can be an issue. Let go of the idea of your holiday needing to be perfect. Leave room for error and be ok with things not being perfect. Using affirmations is a great way to help you to keep your thoughts in tact!
- Reach out to other people: While it can be tempting, it is important that you don’t isolate yourself. Take some time out to reach out to the important people in your life and let them know how you feel. If you are uncomfortable with being around certain family members during the holidays, identify the people who bring you a sense of joy, peace, and comfort. Write down the names of those people and remember to spend time with them. If you struggle with having people in your life, google online social opportunities.
- Stay within your budget: Now, if you decide to celebrate the holidays, stay within your budget. As we mentioned, our society has over-commercialized holidays. It is tempting to spend excessive amounts of money to celebrate the holidays. Don’t try to show your love with your money. Remember, your presence is very valuable. You can create handmade gifts, write a letter or send a card to save money. Remember that whatever amount you decide to spend for the holidays, stick to it. You will be happy that you decided to stick with this at the end of the holidays. A lot of people are stressed after the holidays because they spent way too much money. You don’t want to go into the new year with all that.
- Create new traditions: You can choose unique ways to celebrate the holidays. Think of your own personal reason for wanting to celebrate the holidays. What are some new traditions that you could start? Maybe you want to: take a trip, go to a new restaurant, go to a movie, read a book, binge-watch a television show, cook recipes that have nothing to do with the traditional holidays, etc. Know that it is ok to practice or create traditions that are meaningful to you.
- Practice gratitude: Acknowledge what you are thankful for whether it is “big things” like family, career, your spiritual beliefs and/or higher power, or even the “little things” like that new Netflix series, late-night trips to McDonald’s, or your heated blanket during the winter months.
- Use your sense of humor: Activate and release your stress response by laughing out loud.
- Get plenty of sleep and movement: Sleep and regular exercise have been linked to improved mood, reduced anxiety and depression, and overall better long-term health. It is difficult for your body to manage stress when its basic needs are not being met. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and 60 minutes of physical activity each day. It does not have to be all at once! Practice moderation in eating and drinking, as well.
- Acknowledge mixed feelings: Sometimes family time can be hard during the holidays and it is okay to have mixed feelings. Acknowledge your feelings and let them pass. Try to accept family members as they are. Have discussions with family about boundaries and expectations surrounding the holiday beforehand. This may reduce confusion and set you up for success and less stress.
- Connect with a counselor: Connecting with a counselor can support you in processing your thoughts and feelings. This can be a good way to process the holiday blues and find ways to cope with them. It might be beneficial to schedule this ahead of the holidays. This way you will be prepared before the holidays come.
Don’t Suffer In Silence
A survey by the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix revealed that 97% of Americans believe mental health issues to be a serious problem. 62% of the respondents of that survey reported they had experienced a mental health issue before, such as depression, anxiety, grief, etc. However, only 44% said they would seek counseling for a mental health issue. That means that the majority of people would not seek help for their mental health. Please don’t suffer alone. Help is available!
Supporting A Loved One’s Mental Health
If someone else you know is struggling with their mental health over the holidays – be the support you would want to have! Dr. Sharp of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix recommends:
- Be sensitive to others’ individual responses to seasonal/holiday stress: As previously mentioned, a majority of people say that their mental health issues become worse during the holidays. Be sensitive and supportive to others!
- Avoid stigmatizing: Stigma and negative views toward having mental health issues is one of multiple reasons many people do not seek services for mental health.
- Learn to recognize symptoms of seasonal mental health issues: This will better prepare you to be supportive and empathetic to others and what they are dealing with.
- Know your community resources and referral points: Being aware of these resources will give you practical ways to provide others with professional support. [If you are in the military or a veteran, use the provided resources. For example, the U.S. Air Force encourages the practice of “wingmanship” through relationships, spirituality, gratitude, and resilience. They encourage usage of their many helping agencies for mental and psychiatric help, employee assistance programs, military/family life consultants, and chapels. Many other parts of the military offer resources such as these.]
- Volunteer: Help others in need, and spread the joy! So many need the help and support, and being that helping hand can be quite rewarding.
- Be willing to listen: Many times, we all just need someone to be with us and hear us.
If you find yourself struggling during the holiday season, know that you don’t have to struggle alone. Garrett Counseling has counselors who are available to support you. Please call today at (256) 239-5662 to speak with a counselor.
For more on holidays and mental health:
This article was written by Lee Thompson – a mental health professional at Garrett Counseling in Albertville, AL.