When the “most wonderful time of the year” becomes the most challenging, it’s okay to acknowledge the difficulty. This season, while often filled with joy, can also bring added holiday stress into our already busy lives and potentially exacerbate existing mental health conditions. Remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel this way. In fact, recent studies found that 38 percent of people admit to feeling more stress during the holidays, with only 8 percent reporting a decrease in stress levels. So, to make sure you have the jolliest seasons of all, let’s go over some ways to prioritize your mental health and the holidays.
Managing Holiday Stress
Understanding the causes of extra holiday stress is the first step in finding relief. Let’s explore some common challenges that can feel overwhelming during this time of year and practical strategies to use to take care of your mental health and the holidays.
Navigating Extra Stress at Work
The holiday season often brings all kinds of reasons to consider taking time off from work. However, work responsibilities rarely ease up during this time of year and this can leave you feeling concerned about balancing your workload while seeking approval for time off.
Simultaneously, your personal calendar may be brimming with commitments, social gatherings, and holiday traditions. Juggling these competing demands might lead to feelings of overwhelm and stress, creating a challenge to fully enjoy moments of relaxation and unplugging.
To help reduce stress associated with work during the holidays, use a hourly wage calculator to see if taking time off is a plausible option. It’s important to give yourself the well-needed (and deserved) rest during this time of year. Additionally, dedicating time during the holidays to focus on your personal values can contribute to a healthier work-life balance.
Here are some additional tips for navigating holiday stress at work:
- Initiate a conversation with your manager in advance.
- Inquire about the potential for adjusting workloads or exploring flexible arrangements during the holidays, such as remote work or flexible schedules.
Dealing With Family Conflict During the Holidays
Embracing quality time with loved ones is an excellent way to prioritize your mental health and the holidays. In fact, it’s one of the most rewarding aspects of the winter holidays, with 53 percent of people saying family time is the season’s highlight. However, the joy of family gatherings can sometimes be accompanied by challenges.
Complex family dynamics may increase holiday stress and anxiety among loved ones, casting a shadow over otherwise joyous occasions. Interpersonal conflicts, differing personalities, and the added stress of the holiday season can contribute to shorter fuses, particularly when extended visits are involved. Even amid cheerful family get-togethers, the responsibilities of hosting or traveling for gatherings can introduce additional stress for those involved.
Here are some tips for dealing with complicated family dynamics during the holiday season:
- Establish boundaries and communicate your boundaries kindly and clearly to your loved ones.
- Say no to traditions and activities that may negatively impact your mental health and wellbeing.
- Prioritize you and your family’s needs.
- Align choices with your values. Allow these values to guide you in navigating challenging situations.
- Practice acceptance. In challenging circumstances, the natural inclination is to wish for a different outcome, intensifying holiday stress. Practicing acceptance of what lies beyond our control aids in managing negative emotions. Remember, acknowledging reality doesn’t necessitate approval or liking—it’s a recognition of the situation as it is.
Managing Feelings of Disappointment
Perhaps your life doesn’t align with the envisioned picture for this year, marked by family conflict, loneliness, financial struggles, career setbacks, or other letdowns. The holiday season may serve as a reminder of unmet goals or the absence of a particular achievement, accentuating the changes and challenges you’ve faced since last winter. While disappointments are valid, they shouldn’t define your entire experience.
Here are some strategies for managing disappointment during the holiday season:
- Practice gratitude. Incorporate brief gratitude practices, such as keeping a gratitude journal or reflecting on daily blessings, to enhance positive emotions and overall well-being.
- Recognize when you underestimate yourself. Amid negative thoughts, it’s easy to overlook positive aspects. Identify elements bringing you joy or providing support.
- Challenge extreme thinking patterns that may lead to feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. Assess the evidence, usefulness, and direction of your thoughts. Consider if there’s a more balanced perspective that reflects your complete reality.
Handling Financial Stress During the Holidays
The cumulative expenses of gifts, decorations, food, and holiday travel contribute significantly to holiday stress, with almost half of people identifying financial concerns as their primary source of holiday stress and worry. This burden is particularly difficult for women, who often bear the expectation of orchestrating magical and, at times, expensive holiday experiences for their families.
Some tips for managing financial stress during the holidays are:
- Create a family budget with a savings calculator in advance and stick to it. Planning ahead can alleviate financial strain and help you manage expenses effectively.
- Use a savings calculator to identify areas in your life that you can save some money and reduce the financial strain.
- Prioritize your core values. Reflect on what truly holds meaning for you during the holidays. Often, it’s the time spent with loved ones rather than extravagant gifts or decorations. Keeping your values at the forefront can provide a grounding perspective.
- Start affordable family traditions. Meaningful traditions don’t have to involve costly tickets or experiences. Focus on activities that bring joy without straining your budget.
- Reduce the impact of external pressures by minimizing exposure to holiday advertisements and commercial influences on TV and other media. This can help you stay mindful of your financial priorities, mental health and the holidays.
Dealing With All of the Expectations
Juggling work, family commitments, shopping, and preparations for guests or travel can leave you feeling overwhelmed, with seemingly little time for all of the other holiday details you feel you “should” be managing. Much of our holiday stress stems from these “shoulds”—our preconceived notions of how the holidays should unfold, how we should feel, and what we should be doing to celebrate. These expectations often lead to unhelpful anxiety and unnecessary disappointment when reality doesn’t align with the picture-perfect vision we’ve envisioned.
Some tips to help you balance your mental health and the holidays are:
- Prioritize what matters most to you and learn to say no to the rest.
- Set realistic expectations. Release the notion of an “ideal” holiday and channel your energy towards meaningful connections and values.
- Incorporate relaxation techniques and exercise into your routine. Practice deep breathing or meditation to alleviate holiday stress. Even brief mindful breathing exercises can significantly impact stress levels.
- Plan ahead for a smoother experience. Identify and prepare for specific holiday stress triggers. If holiday travel is a stressor, create an itinerary in advance. Proactively addressing stressors prevents them from accumulating and surfacing later on.
Struggling With Grief and Loss
For some, a season that once brought joy may now serve as a painful reminder of what has been lost. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, estrangement, or other forms of grief, the holiday dynamics may have irreversibly shifted. Activities and traditions that were once enjoyable might now evoke painful memories.
Some tips for navigating grief during this season are:
- Allow yourself to grieve authentically. It’s okay not to force celebrations if you’re not genuinely feeling the holiday spirit.
- Steer clear of comparisons. Avoid measuring your holiday experience against those who haven’t undergone similar losses. Each journey is unique.
- Communicate your needs. Share with trusted friends and loved ones how they can provide support during this challenging season.
- Seek community and professional support from online group therapy sessions.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression triggered by seasonal changes, often manifesting in late autumn. Symptoms may include sadness, loss of interest in activities, low energy, alterations in sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and more. These depression symptoms can intensify holiday stress, making it difficult to balance your mental health and the holidays.
- Use a SAD light therapy device to reduce the effects of SAD.
- Prioritize seasonal activities that bring joy.
- Seize opportunities on days with more temperate weather to spend time outdoors.
Dealing With Loneliness
While the holiday season is meant to encourage connection with others, it can feel isolating if you don’t have loved ones to celebrate with or have different holiday beliefs than those around you.
Here are some strategies to help loneliness and balance your mental health and the holidays:
- Avoid relying on substances.
- Explore volunteer opportunities. Engaging in volunteer work has been shown to combat loneliness by fostering a sense of connection with others.
- Take the first step in reaching out to others who may also be dealing with loneliness. Building a community, both for yourself and others, can bring a sense of shared connection.
- Take advantage of technology for connection. Use technology to stay connected with friends and loved ones, especially if in-person gatherings aren’t possible.
- Seek professional support. If loneliness becomes distressing, consider reaching out to a mental health therapist for guidance and support.
While holiday stress is typically temporary, it’s important to create a strategy to manage triggers and create a healthy balance for your mental health and the holidays. This may involve reaching out to a trusted friend or family member, having a prepared excuse (along with transportation) for an early departure, or rehearsing how to decline an alcoholic beverage politely. If the holiday stress and anxiety starts to impact your functioning at home, work, or in your relationships, consider seeking assistance from a mental health professional. Therapy, coaching, and counseling can be valuable tools for effectively managing stress during the holiday season. Remember, it’s perfectly normal to seek extra support during this time.