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For many, the holidays represent parties, family gatherings, and social activities. But for those of us with lived experience and mental health challenges, the holiday season can be stressful and unfulfilling. Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), is a very real form of depression that accompanies changes in seasons and is manifested by chemical shifts in the brain.

At least 64% of Americans are affected by the “Holiday Blues,” with 24% having significant challenges. In most cases, the holiday blues are temporary. But holiday stress can trigger difficulties for those who have anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental health conditions. If anxiety or feelings of depression continue for several weeks into January, then it may be necessary to consult your doctor.

Watch for these stress risk factors

Finances: The holidays can be a severe financial burden when we account for costs related to travel, gifts, events, and food/drinks. The average American spends over $1,000 during the season. It is important to create a budget and adhere to it. We should minimize credit card usage in order to avoid paying high interest charges later. Financial struggles are the #1 cause of divorce. The holidays are about being with family and friends, not expensive material things.

Increased Social Expectations: With so many social events going on, it’s hard not to experience anxiety and other stressors that can have adverse effects on us. It’s important that we manage social expectations and realize that being seen at the “right party” with the “right people” is not the point of the holiday season.

Grieving a personal loss: The holidays are also the time of year where we tend to reflect and remember someone we have lost during the year. It could be a parent, friend or a pet. Instead of bottling up these emotions, it is important to talk about your loss, seek support or bereavement groups, and know that it’s “ok to not feel ok.” It also helps to act on behalf of our loved one and honor them through a donation or sharing positive stories of their lives on Social Media. This is therapeutic for us too.

Overindulging in food and alcohol: It’s certainly tempting to overindulge during the holidays but keep in mind that eating too much can adversely affect our sleeping, mood, and cause sudden weight gain. Also, drinking too much alcohol can lead to many negative consequences such as depression, mood swings, and risky behavior. And remember to never drink and drive!

Be aware of physical triggers: If you or a loved one has a mental illness or disability, be mindful of over-stimulation. Bright lights, loud music, or large crowds can trigger anxiety in many individuals. If you are at risk for triggers, search for safe and quiet environments and always bring a loved one or friend to events.

Try these 15 coping techniques.

1. BE REALISTIC – Don’t strive for perfection when it comes to things like decorating, cooking, or buying the perfect gift. Perfection isn’t reality.

2. BE ACTIVE – If you exercise throughout the year, try to stick to your routine. If not, this is a good time to begin an exercise program to help mitigate any weight gain from all the holiday food and goodies.

3. SAY “YES” – If others offer to help, accept! Don’t try to do everything yourself especially if you are hosting an event.

4. SAY “NO” – Avoid over committing. Be careful not to commit to too many activities, especially if you have to take care of your usual responsibilities such as working and family obligations.

5. DON’T ISOLATE – It is very important that we keep our routine, social activities going during the holidays. Isolationism can make depression and anxiety worse. If you don’t live near or have many family members, then reach out to friends or even make new friends. Volunteering is a great way to help others while avoiding being alone.

6. VOLUNTEER or GIVE! – Donate money or your time to a charity of your choice. This helps us feel good about ourselves, as well as helps the community. It also helps take our minds off ourselves and improves our capacity for empathy and compassion.

7. EXPLORE SPIRITUALITY – And avoid commercialism. The holidays are the perfect time to evaluate and participate in your spiritual or religious beliefs. Try to avoid the glitzy TV and Social Media advertising campaigns that tend to direct our attention to material things. Research shows that individuals who are believe in God or a higher power, tend to have lower incidences of mental illness and suicidal ideation.

8. RECHARGE AND GET SOME ZZZZ’s! The holidays are also a rare opportunity to get some rest before the busy new year begins. Take those VACA days from work instead of losing them. Try to put a day between the parties and events just to spend it with family and rest up.

9. PRACTICE SELF-CARE – Maintain a holistic schedule of mind, body and spiritual activities. If you are in therapy, stay in therapy during the holidays. If you are on medications, stay on them. It’s easy to forget our meds when we are busy and stressed. Minimize your alcohol intake and drink plenty of water. If you don’t smoke, don’t start!

10. READ a BOOK – This is a great way to unwind and avoid stress. Turn off the TV and read an enlightening book. Reading is educational, therapeutic and fun!

11. REACH OUT – To the sick, elderly, and disabled. The holidays can be very lonely for those who can’t travel or get out of their homes, hospitals, or facilities. A simple visit can go a long way to spread some holiday cheer and love.

12. LIGHTEN UP – Don’t overthink the holidays. Sure, have a good time but don’t put so much emphasis or pressure on the holidays. It’s just a season, and the days are still 24 hours long.

13. BE POSITIVE – Don’t spend time overemphasizing what you “didn’t do” this year. Think of what you “will do” in the coming year. Set goals that are realistic and within reach. Don’t “set yourself up to fail.”

14. LOOK UP…and not down at your phone – Be conscious of the amount of time you spend texting and checking your phone. Research is proving that too much cell phone use can lead to increased anxiety and depression. The holidays are a time for positive, human interaction.

15. SOAK UP THE SUN – Try to get at least 15 minutes a day outside, even if it’s chilly. Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin levels. Even indoor bright lights can ease symptoms of depression, improve concentration and mental energy, and lower levels of inflammation.

Let’s not forget our active military, veterans and senior citizens.

20% of veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Active duty military personnel are at higher risk of stress, anxiety, depression or PTSD than the civilian population during the holidays. Our seniors who live alone or in nursing facilities are often neglected during the holidays. Reach out to them and bring a small gift or snack. They will be so appreciative.





National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admin. (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)




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