The holiday season can be a difficult time for many. From the stress of family obligations to the traditional “holiday blues” some people may find themselves struggling with sadness, anxiety, and depression. People with mental health conditions may be especially vulnerable to the seasonal changes such as less sunlight, changes in routine, over-commercialization, and/or the inability to be with friends or family.
The holidays are perceived as a happy time of fellowship with friends and family; however, the demands on one’s time and extra financial stress may cause a myriad of physical and emotional symptoms for those with and without psychiatric disabilities. For some people, the holiday blues are the temporary feeling of anxiety or depression during the holidays that can be associated with extra stress, financial concerns, unrealistic expectations, or memories that accompany the season. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities may experience an increase of symptoms related to their particular condition (i.e., depressive or manic episodes, anxiety, suicidal thoughts). Physical and emotional signs of stress can include headaches, insomnia, uneasiness, anxiousness, agitation, sadness, and overeating or drinking.
The good news is that with a bit of self-care you can survive the holiday season! Here are a few tips on coping with stress from Psychology Today, MedicineNet.com, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) during the holidays:
- Keep expectations manageable – Prioritize and set realistic goals, pace yourself, be reasonable with your schedule (don’t overbook), and organize your time.
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. This is especially important for individuals with chronic pain and fatigue! – Spread out social engagements and activities. Decline invitations to parties or gift exchanges. It’s OK to say NO!
- Manage your budget along with your time – Choose free or low-cost activities (i.e., taking a drive to look at holiday decorations).
- Leave yesteryear in the past and look toward the future – To avoid disappointment and sadness try to avoid comparing the past with the present and live in the moment.
- Spend time with supportive and caring people – Reach out family and friends, reconnect with old friends. Consider volunteering to help others in need if unable to spend time with friends and family.
- Avoid eating and/or drinking in excess – During the holiday season it is easy to overindulge on food and/or alcoholic beverages. Overeating can make you feel sluggish and fatigued. Alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate feelings of sadness and depression.
- Make time for yourself! – Take the time to recharge your emotional and physical batteries. If you normally go to the gym don’t skip it! Exercise is important for reducing stress. Take the time to go for a walk, treat yourself to dinner out, watch a movie, read a book, etc.
Most importantly, pay attention to eating, sleeping, and downtime. Try to anticipate activities and issues that may be stressful and put in place coping mechanisms such as taking a break from family by going for a walk or creating a budget to the avoid financial stress over spending with gift giving. It is OK to feel conflicting emotions around the holidays and not be “in the spirit of things.” Moreover, the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely and may even add to the reasons to be sad or depressed (i.e., loss of a family member during the year). Ask for help and support from family, friends, and online and community services resources.
Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator through SAMHSA
Provides confidential and an anonymous referral for treatment facilities in the United States an US Territories for substance abuse/addition, and/or mental health issues.
Toll Free Referral Helpline Line: 800/662-4357 (V), 800/487-4889 (TTY); Available 24/7, 365 days-a-year
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) through SAMHSA
NSPL is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
Toll Free: 800/273-8255 (V), 800/799-4889 (TTY); Available 24/7, 365 days-a-year
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Toll Free Information Helpline: 800/950-6264 (V), 888/344-6264 (TTY);
Available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. EST
NAMI Helpline: www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-HelpLine.
Holiday Mental Health Messages from MedlinePlus
MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine, offers text message supports to manage mental health during the holiday season. Subscribers receive three messages per week offering tips and resources to manage anxiety, stress, and depression that may result from holiday activities. To subscribe, sign up online or send a text with the message “MP Health” to 468311. This service is free but text messaging and data rates may apply.