Happy family


How to Manage Holiday Stress and Protect Your Mental Health 

tips for managing holiday stress

For many, the holiday season is a time of cheer—filled with gift-giving, family gatherings, and endless food and drinks. However, it’s important to remember that not everyone has a happy holiday experience. The holidays tend to stir up many negative feelings, too, like grief, frustration, anxiety, and stress. In fact, most people will experience battles with stress during this time of year.

A recent survey found that 80 percent of Americans feel increased stressed during the holidays. For some, the events and expectations associated with the holiday season create added pressure and anxiety. For others, financial stress is to blame. The stress of the holiday season often leads to less sleep at night, and further, a decline in physical health. Among those surveyed, more than one-third reported that their mental health and physical health tends to worsen between November and January.

While holiday stress is manageable for some, people who are already struggling with mental health disorders, or even a substance use disorder, are more vulnerable during this time of year. Increased stress for these individuals can lead to worsened symptoms of disorders like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, as well as more severe drug and alcohol cravings. According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) survey, 64 percent of individuals living with a mental illness report their conditions worsen around the holidays. 

If you, or someone you love, is feeling the pressure of the holiday season and struggling to cope, you are not alone. While it may all feel overwhelming right now, there are steps you can take to find peace (of mind) and better manage the holiday stress. For those battling a mental health issue that goes beyond the holidays, be sure to take extra care of yourself this holiday season. Here’s how.

8 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress and Mental Health

  1. Pay attention to your needs.

It’s easy to get lost amidst the holiday chaos, whether you’ve over-committed to parties or are preoccupied with crossing off Christmas lists. However, it’s so important that you keep tabs on your physical and mental wellbeing. Listen to your body and pay attention to your needs. Check-in with yourself and be mindful of your limits. Do not hesitate to say “no” to things that will stress you out. Always put you first.

  1. Do things that bring you joy.

In putting yourself first, also be sure to do things that make you happy and help you recharge during this time of year. This might be taking a walk with your dog outdoors, snuggling up with a good book and hot cocoa, hitting the gym, or carving out time for a nightly meditation. In this season of giving, make sure you are giving yourself the self-care you need and deserve.

  1. Keep up healthy habits.

The holidays are notorious for depleting healthy habits. Those who are overbooked or overwhelmed may start deprioritizing their exercise routines, nutritious meal prep, and regular sleeping patterns. However, do your best to maintain these healthy routines as much as possible. This means working out weekly, getting enough sleep, eating well, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

  1. Know your triggers and set boundaries.

Think about what triggers your stress most during the holiday season: Is it the taxing social events? The endless shopping for gifts? Awkward or tense family dynamics? No matter your reason (and no reason is wrong!), you will be better able to avoid or cope with stress once you identify the source of it. If you know that something specific causes your stress, set boundaries around it. For example, you may only commit to one holiday party per week, to avoid social overload.

  1. Have a plan for when you feel stressed or sad.

What will you do when you start feeling anxious or upset? When your stress feels overwhelming, how will you cope in a healthy and effective way? Developing a plan now can prepare you for when those moments hit. For example, you might consider having a friend “on call.” Maybe you will have a favorite movie queued up, or a support group in your area. You may turn to mindfulness practice, or take to the trails to overcome negative feelings. Having a plan for healthy coping can help you avoid reverting to unhealthy mechanisms, like drinking or drug use. 

  1. Connect with others.

While it’s okay to say “no” and limit your social obligations, try not to isolate yourself completely. Loneliness can be dangerous for those struggling with mental health problems. Stay connected with others who can support you in times of need. This may be a trusted friend or family member. It may also be a community resource, such as a support group or faith organization.

  1. Be open about your feelings.

As described above, many people struggle with negative feelings and stress during the holidays. You are not alone. In tandem with connecting to others, consider sharing your feelings with those around you. If others are also struggling, you can help them feel less alone. Talking about (and accepting) your feelings can be a powerful healing tool. 

  1. Know when to get help.

If at any point you feel like your mental health is spiraling, and you are finding it difficult to cope, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Treatment is available to you. Mental health problems, particularly those related to stress, are very manageable with professional support. 

If you are in therapy already, stay in therapy. Do your best to keep up with regularly scheduled sessions, even if that means a virtual meeting for those traveling. Therapists are well-aware of the emotions that accompany this season, and will help you develop a plan to manage holiday stress.

What can be “the most wonderful time of the year” can also be one of the most difficult times of year for many people. If you are concerned about your mental health this holiday season, please reach out to a professional for support. Turnbridge is always available at 877-581-1793 – we can evaluate your needs and help you develop a plan of action for the year ahead.