The holiday season and winter months can bring along some unwelcome guests like stress and depression. Many people live out the Norman Rockwell mental picture of the holidays with lots of food, friends, and family all bundled in love, warmth, and excitement. But for others, the holiday season can cause feelings of anxiety and depression in spite of all the parties and festive decorations. Some may feel stress from pressure to impress family and friends or to give gifts that will cause a financial burden. Many may feel increased anxiety with the crowded stores, airports, and parking lots. Others will simply feel blue as the holidays will remind them of family and friends who are no longer around to celebrate with. Understand you are not alone, and the holiday blues are a real phenomenon.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conducted a survey in 2014 that measured the effect the holidays had on people’s mental health. They discovered:

  • 24% of people living with a mental illness found that the holidays made their symptoms “a lot worse.”
  • 40% of people living with a mental illness found that the holidays made their symptoms “somewhat worse.”
  • 68% felt financially stressed.
  • 66% felt lonely.
  • 63% experienced too much pressure.
  • 57% felt there were unreal expectations.
  • 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past, comparing them with their present.
  • Nearly half could not be with their loved ones.

While many things can bring down your holiday spirit, there are various ways you can manage your mental health throughout the holiday season. Listed below are just a few tips to help you avoid and/or manage the holiday blues:

  • Say “NO” if you feel overwhelmed – You are only one person and can only do so much. Know your limits, set realistic expectations, and stick to them. Over-obligating yourself will deplete you and create stress during a time intended to bring joy.
  • Be kind to your bank account – The National Retail Federation (NRF) expects Americans to spend 8.5% to 10.5% more this 2021 holiday season, bringing overall holiday spending between $843 and $859 billion. (Note: These spending calculations exclude auto dealers, gas stations and restaurant purchases.) Finances can be the largest source of anxiety for many during the holiday season. Planning and setting a budget you can realistically stick to will help prevent over-purchasing and impulse buying.
  • Give honor – Remember it is okay to have some feelings of sadness and to mourn those who have gone on before you. There is no way to replace our loved ones nor the feeling their presence can bring. However, finding ways to honor them during the holiday season can help manage those feelings of sadness and prevent them from becoming overwhelming. Here are some ideas: set a place at the table for them, donate time or money in memory of them, take time to look at old photos and videos with others to remember their life and the good times, or create a new tradition you believe your loved one would have enjoyed.
  • Don’t be alone, if you don’t want to – It is okay to spend your holidays in solitude to relax and self-reflect. However, if you find yourself feeling lonely without your family and friends look for other opportunities to surround yourself with love and good cheer. Talk to co-workers and neighbors to let them know you will be alone, find a volunteer opportunity (people or animal) to help others in need during the holidays, or find a local community event to attend.
  • Acknowledge your feelings – The holidays are filled with so many different emotions for us all. Remember it is okay to have your own unique feelings during the holiday season. Make sure you acknowledge how you feel. Don’t be ashamed or bottle up your emotions. Reach out to loved ones to let them know how you are feeling and to talk through your emotions. You can also use the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor line (877-823-5715) for a free confidential consultation.
  • Seek help – It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, please consult with your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide. If you find yourself in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 or text “MHFA” to 741-741 24 hours a day/7 days a week to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

You can regain control of your holidays by taking steps to manage and/or prevent those looming feelings of stress and depression that can come knocking on your mental health’s door during the holiday seasons. Become aware of your triggers and take time to make positive changes that can help you find happiness, joy, and most of all peace.