Your Mental Health and the Holidays

Navigating Mental Health and the Holidays

It’s never easy to manage mental illness, with so many genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors to consider. Still, the holiday blues can be even tougher on people who struggle with their mental health. Even individuals who don’t typically experience symptoms of mental health conditions can find themselves feeling anxious or depressed during the holiday season due to the presence of a range of stressors. So, why are holidays hard on mental health? There are numerous reasons, which we’ll go over in-depth in our comprehensive guide to navigating mental health throughout the holiday season.

A streetlight covered in snow with a red ribbon on it stands in front of a lit-up Christmas tree

Common Holiday Mental Health Issues

While there are an infinite number of causes of mental health issues during the holidays, there are certain mental health conditions that make you more likely to have difficulties in the winter months. Being aware of the way your current mental health status can impact you will be essential if you want to be prepared and take the best possible care of yourself. In this section, we’ll talk about some of the common conditions that can show up around the holidays.

Depression

It’s no secret that the holidays can be triggering for anyone with depression. While the holiday season is supposed to be full of joy, love, and celebration, it can also be a time of increased stress, negative feelings, loneliness, and sadness. This is particularly pronounced for people who experience symptoms of depression or who have been diagnosed with the condition. There is so much pressure to have a picture-perfect, aesthetically pleasing family gathering, especially with the popularity of social media.

Chasing the unattainable goal of perfection can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Financial strain is another major aggravating factor related to mental health and the holidays, given that it comes with substantial expenses from buying gifts to hosting parties. Those who don’t participate in holiday festivities or don’t have the opportunity to socialize with friends or family can feel isolated during this time of year.

Anxiety

Anxiety is another mental health condition that can be exacerbated over the holidays. Anxiety affects millions of people worldwide and is usually characterized by feelings of worry, fear, and unease, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and difficulty breathing. While anxiety can be experienced at any time of the year, it tends to be worse around the holidays.

The pressure to be social and attend gatherings can be overwhelming when you struggle with social anxiety. The fear of judgment, small talk, and being the center of attention can all contribute to heightened levels of anxiety. The holiday season can also bring about feelings of loneliness or grief for those who have lost loved ones or are separated from family and friends. The emphasis on togetherness and happy families can intensify these feelings.

Family Trauma

The most wonderful time of the year can be fraught for anyone who has lived through some form of familial trauma. Family trauma can be caused by many situations, such as divorce, loss of a loved one, domestic violence, or emotional abuse. These experiences can affect our mental and emotional well-being, making it hard to get into the holiday spirit. Beyond that, family gatherings and holiday events can produce temporary feelings of anxiety or stress for those who have experienced family trauma.

Specific issues for mental health and the holidays arise surrounding identity-based issues that can cause conflict with families. This unfortunately occurs often with people who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, for example. LGBTQ individuals might have come out to their families at some point, only to be met with disapproval, denial, or even outright hostility. Moreover, societal pressures and unrealistic expectations surrounding the traditional family structure can further amplify tensions during the holidays.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) typically occurs in the fall and winter months when days become shorter and sunlight is scarce. The lack of sunlight can disrupt the body’s internal clock and cause a sudden drop in serotonin levels, which is the hormone that regulates mood. The result for individuals who have seasonal affective disorder is having feelings of sadness, lethargy, and a lack of motivation.

The holiday season brings about significant changes in routines, too. This disruption, coupled with the challenges of SAD, can make it even harder for individuals to maintain a sense of stability and control. Lack of energy and other symptoms can also make it harder to motivate yourself to attend holiday gatherings, or you may simply not have the physical ability to participate. Having a plan to combat SAD during the holidays needs to be a priority.

Holiday Mental Health Tips

It’s understandable if you don’t know what to do or where to start when it comes to your mental health and the holidays. None of us are experts, and with so many other responsibilities, there’s little time for figuring it all out as you go. That’s why you need to take advantage of all of the resources available to you, including guides like this. To get you started, here are some useful tips that you should take into account when the holidays roll around:

  • Set boundaries for yourself. It’s perfectly okay to decline invitations or scale back on social commitments to set healthy boundaries. “No!” is a complete sentence, and you can always send a gift or a card to show you care. Focus on what feels right to you, and learn to refuse to take on new obligations without feeling an ounce of guilt.
  • Make time for self-care. Schedule some time for yourself to engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Whether it’s going for a walk in nature, reading a book, or taking a warm bath, giving yourself these moments of self-care can give you the energy you need to take care of your other responsibilities.
  • Start planning early. By starting early, we can give ourselves the time and space to organize and prioritize our commitments. This can allow us to avoid feeling overwhelmed or frazzled as the holidays approach.
  • Maintain a healthy routine. The holiday season often disrupts regular schedules, but sticking to a routine as much as possible can provide a sense of stability. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well-balanced meals, and getting a little exercise when you can!
  • Reach out for support. Talk openly with friends, family, or a trusted confidant about your struggles with mental health and the holidays. Sometimes, simply sharing your feelings with someone who listens non-judgmentally can provide immense relief. Seeking professional help can be beneficial, too, as a professional can work with you to create a plan to safeguard your mental health and quality of life all year long.

How the Therapy Group of DC Can Help with Mental Health

We all need to prioritize our mental health during the holidays, and therapy can be an extremely effective way to do that. Therapy gives you a safe and non-judgmental space where you can explore your emotions and thoughts with a trained professional. A therapist can guide you through the process of identifying and understanding the root causes of your mental health issues, which leads to insights, meaningful breakthroughs, and the development of coping strategies.

Here at Therapy Group of DC, we offer both in-person therapy in Dupont Circle and teletherapy services through our family of practices for those who live elsewhere. When you work with us, you can choose from a selection of qualified and trusted professionals with years of experience. We believe that everyone deserves more than just a normal experience; we want you to feel great and have all of the resources you need to face anything that life throws at you this holiday season.

Holiday mental health awareness is a serious issue that we should all be paying more attention to with the holidays fast approaching. No matter what mental health issues you are dealing with, always remember that there’s no such thing as a perfect holiday season, and it’s okay if things don’t go exactly as planned. Embrace imperfections, enjoy the little moments, and prioritize yourself and your needs so you can manage both your mental health and the holidays.

Be sure you’re prepared for any mental health challenges you encounter over the holidays this year by contacting us today to schedule a session.

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