By: Janis Mallon PhD

In contrast to popular depictions of the holidays as fun-filled times of celebration with family and friends, an American Psychological Association survey found that 38% of people reported increased stress during the holiday season (Levine, 2018). Contributing factors include busy schedules, social demands, job pressure, the loss of a loved one, and the shorter winter days. Holiday stress can take a toll, leaving us vulnerable to physical illness, depression, anxiety, overeating, and substance misuse. Lack of time, lack of money, pressure for gift-giving, and family gatherings can add to the stress. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that nearly 2/3 of individuals living with a mental illness experienced an increase in symptoms and distress over the holidays. 

NAMI (2015) offered a number of helpful tips to assist in navigating seasonal stress:

  • Stick to a normal routine as much as possible.
  • Get enough sleep. Self-care is important.
  • Take time for yourself (reading, meditating, journalizing), but reach out to connect with supportive people.
  • Eat and drink in moderation – avoid alcohol if you are feeling depressed.
  • Get exercise, even if it is just a short walk.
  • Make a to-do list – keep it simple. Say no if you need to.
  • Set reasonable expectations for shopping, cooking, entertaining.
  • Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Relax with music or other activities.

Casarella (MedicineNet, 2020) offered additional suggestions to counteract holiday depression and stress:

Those individuals who are lonely or lack a social support system might consider volunteering to brighten the holiday for those in need. 

Focus on the present – don’t get caught up in nostalgia or memories of the past if it leaves you feeling sad.

Find free activities to enjoy, such as viewing holiday decorations or taking a walk in nature. 

Homemade gifts or gifts of time or assistance are often more welcome and valued than the trendiest gifts purchased online.

If you are dealing with grief or loss, acknowledge the change in your life and don’t force yourself to join in “celebrations” you are not comfortable with.  Spend time with loved ones instead.

Get outside and soak up some sunlight.

Finally, remember to take things day by day. The holiday blues will pass. If they don’t, be sure to seek help. Reach out to a therapist, a primary care provider, a religious leader or call the national suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.


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