The holiday season can hold great expectations for any individual or family who partakes in them. Oftentimes there is a family fight, a heated discussion around the dinner table, an uncle who may drink too much or the anxiety of finding the perfect gift for every immediate family member. The holiday blues are known to bring feelings of loneliness, sadness, financial stress and high expectations to many. Although these are normal stressors of the holidays, many individuals do not realize the dangerous stressors an individual faces during the holiday season when they are battling a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety. Although mental illnesses such as depression are not more common during the holidays compared to the rest of the year, holiday blues is a transitional depression that usually resolves after the holidays but if prolonged, can potentially lead to depression. Unlike depression, the holiday blues does not have a major effect on daily living but still can dampen your mood around the holiday season.

Avoid using drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism

It is easy to turn to alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings or use as a social crutch around the holidays but these substances are unhealthy coping mechanisms that can worsen your feelings of anxiety and depression. Alcohol-related accidents and deaths rapidly increase around the holiday season. Many partygoers don’t drink often, leaving them with low tolerance and more vulnerability to alcohol’s effects. At the other extreme are problem drinkers who find plenty of social occasions to drink or use alcohol or other substances as an excuse to deal with difficult social situations or stressors around the holidays.

Stick to your mental health routine

The holiday hustle and bustle can leave up feeling overworked, overcommitted, emotionally drained and sleep deprived. We tend to “pack it all in” during the holidays and over exert ourselves with social gatherings and holiday festivities without leaving time for ourselves. It is important to practice self-care on a daily basis during this time of year and know your limits and boundaries when it comes time to overextending yourself.

Whether it is weekly outpatient therapy, morning meditation, attending community support groups, daily exercise or specific self-care rituals, keeping with your regular self-care and mental health routine during the holidays can help alleviate unwanted stressors or negative emotions that can re-surface during the holidays.

Surround yourself with a positive support team

Friends and family who support you by listening, giving healthy advice or just being present can make a positive impact around the holiday season. Lean on those people in your life who care about you and who can help you overcome the holiday stressors. Also keep in mind that many may not realize the holiday season is a triggering time of year for you so be honest with your loved ones and make sure they are there to support you throughout stressful family gatherings or holiday dinners. Do not isolate yourself as this can become triggering in itself.

Learn when and how to say “no”

From family gatherings, decorations, gift giving, holiday sweets and fancy outfits we often hold others and ourselves to high expectations, which usually results in feelings of failure. It is important to be realistic around the holidays and be aware that not everyone is going to get along and everything is not going to go as planned.  Saying “no” is a healthy form of self-care, especially when it can prevent you from getting involved in negative experiences. If you feel overwhelmed around the holidays it is okay to say “no” to social obligations, especially activities where you may feel triggered. Declining an invitation to take care of yourself is perfectly acceptable and those who support you will understand.

Enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature

For many, the holiday season can come with shorter days, freezing temperatures and gray skies, which can trigger seasonal affective disorder (seasonal depression). The outdoors and sunlight are known to elevate mood and stimulate happiness. In order to combat empty feelings associated with the cold, dreary winter season than set aside time to walk outside and invest in a light box to increase your light exposure. Take time to enjoy the outdoors to go hiking, biking or skiing, of course weather permitting, and if you find yourself stuck indoors, look into purchasing a light box for the purpose of bright light therapy which can elevate your mood.

Set a budget and stick to it

Financial stress of the holiday season is a huge burden for many. Gift buying, decorations and holiday meal prepping can be very expensive and for many, can contribute to a lot of unnecessary stress. Individuals feel they have to go overboard to show their affection where others are pressured to maintain their image by having to “keep up with Joneses”. Regardless if you have a large or small income, set a budget for all holiday expenses and stick with it. Instead of buying gifts for everyone on your list maybe look into making homemade gifts, gifting your skill or partaking in a family secret Santa where each family member draws one name and only buys for that one individual.