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Navigating Mental Health Challenges During the Holidays


Amidst the twinkling lights and nostalgic tunes, Stephen found himself engulfed in a suffocating darkness that no amount of holiday cheer could penetrate. For him, the holidays weren’t a season of joy, but a reminder of the weight of his mental health struggles and the turmoil it creates.

As he watched others revel in the warmth of family gatherings, a sense of isolation and despair settled deeper within him. The incessant pressure to feel merry and bright only amplified the heaviness in his heart, accentuating the stark contrast between his internal turmoil and the external facade of holiday bliss.

His family’s silent apprehension about his mood swings added an additional layer of pressure, intensifying his feelings of isolation and exacerbating his internal conflict.

“People with mental health disorders definitely experience more stress and anxiety during the holidays,” says Tiffany Bell, Board Certified Nurse Practitioner with Elite DNA Behavioral Health. “Actually, Americans are 5 times more likely to be more depressed and more anxious during the holiday season.”

Why Are the Holidays More Stressful?

The holiday season can be overwhelming for anyone. For patients with existing mental health challenges, the hustle and bustle, coupled with societal expectations, contribute to heightened stress levels.

The American Psychological Association notes 38% of people surveyed admit their stress increases during the holidays which can lead to physical illness, depression, and anxiety.

Amidst these challenges, managing triggers becomes crucial. Changes in routine, family conflicts, financial strains, reduced daylight, and feelings of loneliness can compound mental health challenges during this otherwise celebratory period.

How Do I Cope? Can I Enjoy the Holidays too?

For individuals grappling with mental health conditions, navigating the holidays requires deliberate strategies:

Acknowledge Your Feelings: It’s okay if you don’t feel full of holiday spirit. Try to stay grounded in the present moment and practice positive affirmations. Take the pressure off yourself to please everyone.

Manage Daily Routines: Commit to getting adequate sleep, watch your diet and don’t forget your meds. Big changes in any one of these will offset progress you’ve made leading up to the holidays.

Incorporate Exercise and Mindfulness: Regular physical exercise and mindfulness practices boost endorphins, alleviate stress and improve a sense of well-being. Plan regular exposure to sunlight if you are also prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Plan Ahead for Holiday Activities: Schedule shopping, baking, and cleaning to avoid last-minute stress.

Establish Boundaries: Speak to family members ahead of time about gift-giving and what works for you. If your budget is tight, consider gifts that don’t cost any money. If spending an entire day with family will be too much, plan to stay a shorter amount of time. Learn how to kindly express what you need, even if that means saying “no” to a specific get-together.

Combat Isolation: Reach out regularly to friends via text, phone or video chat and connect or reconnect with support groups.

Seek Timely Help: Don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you’re having trouble sleeping, concentrating, or maintaining your normal routine. Your mental health provider can offer targeted strategies or adjust medications if you need extra support this time of year.

Creating a Supportive Environment

“Friends and family can definitely help someone that is struggling with mental health issues,” says Bell.

  • Recognize and support healthy boundaries with your loved one.
  • Consider alternative gatherings like breakfast instead of dinner. This can be easier for someone battling alcohol issues since it might be a smaller gathering and unlikely to serve alcohol.
  • At family get-togethers, offer a quiet place where your loved one can escape for a short time to calm any anxious nerves.
  • Respect your family member’s potential need to leave early and acknowledge your appreciation for the time they were able to spend with you.

Remember, supporting those with mental health issues during the holidays requires empathy, understanding, and a willingness to accommodate individual needs, ultimately fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment for everyone.

When To Seek Help

If you feel anxiety or depression escalating due to changes in your routine, family skirmishes, financial strains, reduced daylight, or feelings of loneliness as the holidays approach, seeking assistance is crucial.

“There is no special time for mental health. Mental health is health,” points out Bell. “If you start to feel overwhelmed or feel it is hard navigating life, reach out and speak to someone. Mental health is the soil from which physical health grows.”

After seeking support from his mental health provider, Stephen discovered personalized behavioral techniques that helped alleviate his inner struggles, allowing him to find moments of joy during the holiday season.

The Next Step

We’re here to help connect you with a licensed mental health professional that can provide tailored strategies to help manage your challenges.

If one of our many locations is not convenient, we also offer high-quality, confidential telehealth sessions through Zoom.

In person or virtually, you can be assured of getting a therapeutic experience.

Our mental and behavioral health experts are here to help you find your own holiday sparkle.

The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. No material on this site is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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