The holidays are often considered the most cheerful time of year when we gather with friends and family to celebrate the season of giving. These months are often filled with parties and get-togethers that many people look forward to year-round, but not everyone may be filled with joy during this time of year.
The “Holiday Blues” or A Larger Mental Health Concern?
Around the holidays, we find our schedules packed with social events, traveling, shopping, cooking, and gift-giving. With heightened expectations for the season and a busier schedule, it’s normal to feel anxious, stressed, or overwhelmed around this time of year. These feelings are often referred to as the “holiday blues” and may include feelings of sadness, fatigue, frustration, or a sense of isolation from the sometimes unrealistic expectations associated with celebrating the holidays.
If you feel like you’re beginning to feel the holiday blues as this year’s holidays approach, there are steps you can take to avoid these feelings or other mental health concerns you may be dealing with. For those struggling with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or addiction, the holidays may cause feelings of loneliness, isolation, or uncertainty regarding potentially triggering situations. This time of year can also be triggering for people struggling with substance abuse and those who have experienced trauma during the holidays in the past.
Why We Feel Stress During the Holidays
As the festive season approaches, it’s important to prepare yourself for any stressors that the coming months may bring. According to experts at Harvard Medical School, the stress of the holidays actually impacts the brain and a person’s behavior. The shifting set is our brain’s repertoire of project management skills, and these skills can include time management, switching focus, attention to detail, and planning and organizing. We use our shifting set daily, however when the expectations and responsibilities of the holidays approach, our brain’s acute stress response limits our abilities to perform these skills.
Mental Health and Self-Care Tips for the Holidays
Everyone’s needs vary–especially when it comes to mental and emotional well-being–but there are several strategies that anyone can employ to effectively avoid holiday blues as the New Year approaches.
Maintain healthy habits, even in the midst of a busy schedule. No matter what your holiday plans are, remember to take care of your physical health; this means getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating regular meals, and even taking regular walks and spending time outdoors. Consider setting your intentions and resolutions for the new year ahead, as well.
Practice self-care! Making time for yourself can be incredibly helpful if you get overwhelmed easily during the holidays. Finding time to spend with yourself, reflecting, and being mindful of your physical, emotional, and social needs will allow you to maintain control over your well-being, even under circumstances you may not be able to fully control.
Keep a support system and reach out for help when necessary. If you are feeling isolated or lonely during this time of year, don’t be afraid to reach out to a close friend, family member, or significant other for support. Alternatively, if you feel that the stress of the holiday season is impacting your mental health (especially if this occurs on a yearly basis), do seek professional mental health treatment, or contact your primary care physician.
Set boundaries, and don’t be afraid to change up traditions. For some people, certain traditions in their family, circle of friends, or place of work can feel overwhelming too, especially with the expectation to revert to pre-pandemic ways after the height of Covid-19. Suggest starting a new tradition that places less stress on you, and don’t be afraid to decline an invitation to a gathering for the sake of your mental well-being.
It’s absolutely normal to feel stressed during the holiday season; sometimes a minor amount of stress is just what we need to be productive. However, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed and overcommitted as we navigate the season of giving and the expectations that come with it. While some of us may know the feeling of the “holiday blues,” other people struggling with mental health conditions may find the holidays even more difficult. Though the season is all about giving and spreading joy, remember these tips as you prioritize your mental well-being as you get into the holiday spirit.