Combatting Holiday Stress

By: Jayson Tripp, MD


It’s the most wonderful time of the year? Not for everyone it’s not. While many people enjoy the festive season during the final months of the year, for those struggling with mental illness, it can be difficult. In 2014, NAMI did a survey of 300 individuals with mental illness. Of these, 64% reported that their mental illness is aggravated during the holiday season, with 24% saying they experienced a significant increase in severity, and 40% experiencing some level of aggravation.

Some of the key contributors to a negative impact on mental health are:

  • Additional pressure to be happy and outgoing
  • Increased financial strain
  • Feeling isolated from family and friends
  • Inability to be with loved ones

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased financial strain and reduced interaction already. Earlier this year the CDC reported that 40% of adults in the U.S. have reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, and 11% have seriously considered suicide. It’s more important than ever to prioritize mental health, but during a time of year centered around giving to others, it can be difficult to know how. Here are a few simple ways to make sure you are taking care of your needs this holiday season.

1. Pay Attention to How You Are Feeling

When we are feeling upset, frustrated, or overwhelmed it can be easy to hide these feelings to avoid conflict during the holidays and because of societal pressure to act happy. Even when you’re on your own, it can be difficult to truly recognize what you’re feeling. Journaling is a great tool to process, accept and understand the origin of your feelings.

Mobile apps, such as What’s Up, can help with journaling anywhere, and provide additional resources such as an emotional self-assessment tool, forum, online journal, and even different CBT and ACT techniques to help with anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses.

2. Set Boundaries

While this year looks a little different due to gathering restrictions, holidays are full of holiday plans. Some are made by you, some are made by others, and all of them are crammed into your agenda. While spending time with those who matter to you (virtually or in-person) is important, it is equally as important to recognize your boundaries. Pay attention to when you begin to feel overwhelmed, and recognize the needs you have. If you can only spend 4 hours with your family at a time, communicate your need to have time to re-energize yourself. If you have additional needs or boundaries, make these clear. Making sure you are able to be in a good place mentally will benefit both you and those around you.

3. Practice Gratitude

When you’re feeling stressed, depressed, or obsessing over holiday celebrations, it can be hard to see the positives. According to a study by UC Berkeley, making time to recognize things you are grateful for can help reduce negative emotions, increase energy and have better brain function. You can learn more about the positive mental health implications of thankfulness in our article on the benefits of gratitude.

4. Be Honest with Yourself

Sometimes mental illness can be too much to handle on your own. Pay attention to increases in frustration, anxiety, depression, anger, or suicidal thoughts and reach out for professional help if you are struggling. Therapists, psychiatrists, and even primary care doctors can be great resources for helping regain control over your happiness.

5. Assess if Your Current Treatment is Working

Even if you’ve reached out for help and been prescribed a treatment in the past, it’s not uncommon for tolerances to build up or for your needs to change as your body and circumstances change. If you don’t feel like you are functioning or enjoying life to the fullest, it may be time to investigate other options. Serenity Mental Health Centers offers a variety of effective treatment options designed by board-certified psychiatrists. You can learn more about our treatments on our services page.

No matter what time of the year it is, your mental health matters and should be a priority. Everyone should be able to enjoy the holidays, and for some, that’s easier than for others. Regardless of who you are, the points above will help you get the most out of your holiday season.

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*All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.