Managing Mental Health During the Holidays

Often the holiday season is seen as a wonderful time of the year, however that doesn’t have the same joyous impact on everyone. People struggling with mental health issues and unaccepting families may find the holiday season quite difficult to manage and at times, triggering. The media portrays the holidays as a magical season where families get together around the tree, sing carols, and share laughter. The pressure to rise to the expectations of the season combined with the stress of family gatherings may bring mental health struggles to the surface.

Additionally, people who spend the holidays alone may experience increased feelings of loneliness and sadness when faced with society’s “demand” to have a joyous time. While many enjoy making holiday plans, 64% of people living with mental health conditions report that the holiday season makes their mental conditions worse.

Spending time with family can turn into a very stressful time and become a source of anxiety, especially for members of the LGBTQ community. Many LGTBQ and non-binary individuals are exposed to homophobic and transphobic sentiments and rejection by family members throughout the year and may be exacerbated during family reunions. Family time may become a reminder of feeling “othered” by your family. Feeling “othered” by family can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. And even if members of the LGBTQ community choose not to return home for the holidays, the expectation of spending the holidays with family in a cheerful setting may loom over them which can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.

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Even people who have no history of mental health challenges may at times experience anxiety, frustration, sadness, fatigue, and loneliness around holiday time, particularly when associated with the COVID-19 crisis. Whether you are living with a mental health challenge or not, the holiday season can bring an immense amount of stress. Here are some helpful tips on how to manage through the holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings

Every holiday season has a different emotional charge. Take a step back and analyze your emotions. Listen to your mind and soul and see what they need to feel better. Is the holiday spirit reservoir empty? That is fine. Accept that this year you lack the enthusiasm and capacity to get all caught up in the traditional cheeriness. Happiness can’t be forced! Embrace your emotions and remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.

Bring a Reminder with you

If you are at a family event that may bring added stress, bring something with you. This could be a picture of a loved one, an essential oil to ground you when overwhelmed, a piece of paper with a mantra on it, a funny animal video online, etc. Step away at times and look at these reminders.

woman in therapy

Communicate with your partner ahead of time

If you are bringing someone with you to a holiday event create a plan ahead of time regarding the type of support you may need. It’s important to strategize in order for you to feel support, connection, and security. Remember that you are on the same team as your significant other. If you feel you need to leave an event early or buy one less gift it’s important for your partner to be supportive and attuned to your needs.

Be realistic about shopping and hosting

Ask others to help with the burdens of holiday shopping, decorating the house, and cooking meals. Spend only the money you can afford to avoid the stress of having to think about ways to save money next year to cover the debt. Don’t sacrifice your mental health for the sake of appearances. Admit if you can’t afford to buy presents this year. No one will judge you. And even if they would, your mental health is more important than anyone’s opinion.

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Be honest with yourself and connect with a safe community

If possible, try to avoid forced celebrations that you do not feel comfortable attending. Be gentle and kind to yourself, and don’t force unrealistic expectations. Connect with your loved ones, your support group, a therapist, or simply start a conversation with some of your friends. A simple walk with a friend can plant the seed of hope and joy you can experience in the years to come.

Avoid alcohol consumption

Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment, but it is known to be a depressant. Try to not rely on alcohol or drugs to make it through.. Both may only make your mental health condition worse. Numbing your feelings is not the only way to work through the holiday blues and manage your mental health needs. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and depression.

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Prioritize self-care

Include healthy habits in your schedule, and do not sacrifice them to make time for others. Your physical health is very important. Exercise, eat healthy meals, and try to relax as much as possible. If you need a break from all the merriness, take a break. Set healthy boundaries and take care of yourself. You can go out for a walk, watch a movie, practice deep breathing, or meditate. Whatever takes you back to yourself and helps you soothe your feelings of anxiety or stress! Remember that winter also comes with less sunlight and this may have an impact on your mood. Try to include outdoor exercise in your routine to get your share of natural light.

Be assertive (if safe to do so)

No one feels comfortable during tension created by conflicts and sometimes we avoid confrontations but sometimes, especially for LGBTQ and non-binary individuals, assertiveness may be necessary. CAUTION- assertiveness is only healthy to utilize if there are no safety concerns, please assess for any safety concerns first. If there are no safety concerns, here some helpful ways to be assertive. Speak up for yourself if you feel hurt by certain comments or you believe to be the victim of microaggressions, such as snubs or insults, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional. You do not need to change for anyone, and this should be your mantra. Set gentle yet firm boundaries to stop any potential toxicity. Repeat to yourself whenever necessary that you have the right to be who you are and you deserve everyone’s respect.