Managing Your Mental Health During the Holidays
By Dr. Balaji Saravanan
It is often referred to as the most wonderful time of year, but for some, the holiday season can be anything but. The decorating, shopping, family gatherings, and other traditions that many credit for making this time of year so merry and bright can prove challenging for others. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness says more than half of individuals living with a mental illness felt their condition worsened because of the holidays.
The unrealistic expectations of needing to find the best possible gift or host the perfect holiday party can lead to financial pressures and personal demands that increase anxiety. Depression can also descend on those who have lost a family member, gone through a breakup, or are unable to be with their loved ones during this time of year. A jam-packed social calendar, deadlines at work, and even the winter weather can all contribute to the holiday blues that Elvis describes so well in his popular seasonal hit, “Blue Christmas.”
Those suffering from the holiday blues can struggled with fatigue and irritability. They may have trouble concentrating, find they’re eating or drinking too much, and struggle with feeling overwhelmed. However, all hope is not lost. There are various methods for managing your mental health to ease stress levels and enjoy the holidays more than you may expect.
First, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and realize you’re not alone in feeling this way. That will help you recognize that you don’t need to force the holiday cheer. Using alcohol or other substances to avoid your feelings can just make anxiety and depression worse. Instead, work to identify your triggers for holiday stress and set boundaries.
To do this, make sure you keep in mind what really matters during the holiday season. You don’t have to attend every social gathering you’re invited to – friends and colleagues will understand you can’t participate in every activity. It is also important to ask for help. Getting others to assist with cooking or cleaning can quickly ease the burden of hosting others or traveling away for the holiday.
Planning can also prevent added stress, especially when it comes to your budget. Decide how much money is realistic for you to spend before doing any shopping. When it comes to gifts, you can still deliver a smile without going broke. Consider giving one another homemade gifts or starting a family or friend gift exchange that has a set budget everyone must stick to.
Setting aside time for self-care is another important coping tool. Relaxation and breathing techniques can be beneficial whether sitting in holiday traffic, heading into a family function or a busy store.
Sleep Diet Exercise
Even just a few minutes alone without distraction may be the key to clearing your mind so you’re ready to take on the holiday season. Keeping up routines amid all the festivities – especially when it comes to your sleep, diet, and exercise – can also help you stay healthy and organized.
Reaching out to your loved ones during the holiday season is one of the most beneficial things to do when struggling with mental health. Speaking with a friend, family member or even a therapist can help you cope with any negative feelings you may be having. While it might be tempting to isolate yourself from others, surrounding yourself with people who love and support you can make all the difference.
Everyone feels some level of stress and anxiety as a result of all the holiday happenings, but don’t let it become something you dread. If your mental health is interfering with your enjoyment of the season or if you continue to feel anxious and depressed long after the holidays have gone, it might be time to speak to your primary care provider. If you find yourself experiencing these issues on a more regular basis, it may also be a sign of seasonal depression and you should definitely talk to your provider.
For more information on sources of support locally, contact the Lorain Mental Health Crisis Hotline at 800-888-6161. Other assistance is available via the National Alliance on Mental Health at 800-950-6264 or the National Suicide Hotline at 988. If you are looking to connect with a trained Crisis Counselor, you can also text Go to 741741 – this is both free and confidential.
*Dr. Balaji Saravanan MD, MRCPsych (England), FAPA is a Board-Certified Psychiatrist and Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Mercy Health – Lorain. His previous experiences include Cleveland Clinic Physician, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, and Case Western Reserve University. His special interest includes treatment resistant mood disorders, Neuromodulation including ECT and Psychopharmacology.