Mental Health During the Holidays 



While the holidays are exciting and fun times for many, for others all the activity and holiday festivities pose a real challenge to their mental health.  The following information provides guidance on how to negotiate what can be the trials and tribulations of the holidays.
Set Realistic Expectations and Priorities 

Review holiday expectations and materialism coming from media portrayals, personal memories. Identify what’s realistic for you and your family. You are responsible your own happiness during the holidays. Identify what holiday feature, or features, matters most to you, and participate in what is important to you. 


Have clear priorities to help balance energy, exercise, rest, work, personal time, care-giving, and celebrations. Just how important are greeting cards, personally-made gifts and family meals, decorations, “magic” gifts, community/church volunteering? Learn to say “no, not this year; this year, instead, I’m giving myself and my family more quiet time.” 


Include all members of the immediate family (living together) as much as possible in discussions and planning. They can help come up with alternatives and compromises 

Navigating special family gatherings, ranging from staying away to “bring it on.” 

Instead of a big family bash, schedule scattered visits with smaller units of relations so you can visit better.” If you’re a crowd-shy person, maybe you could send a munchie or dessert instead. 

Medications and Common Sense 

Ensure you have necessary medications.  Doctor and pharmacy availability may be limited during the holidays.  If you’re travelling, plan ahead and take an extra day or two of supplies in case of bad weather. Even at home, daily schedules can be upset, making it harder to remember all doses. 


Food and Mood 

  • Remember that drinks with caffeine or alcohol not only affect mood but can affect how medications perform. Check with your pharmacist on drug interactions. 
  • Refined sugar, like caffeine, can produce a temporary high followed by a low. This can affect mood, energy, mental clarity and create an urge for weight-enhancing comfort foods. 

Remember that holiday snacks and drinks can lead to weight gain. 

  • Especially beware sweet drinks like regular sodas, lattes,punches, and especially eggnog! 
  • Stay as rested as possible. Research shows that we want more sweets and carbs when we’re short on sleep. 

  • To help keep your sweet tooth at bay, avoid letting yourself get really hungry.  It helps to keep a supply of handy snacks available such as small carrots or tomatoes, dried fruit, nuts, or celery.

  •  If you are attending a party likely to be loaded with rich or fatty offerings:
    • Eat a light meal before you go that includes slow-digesting protein. 
    • When you arrive, survey the calorie rich foods and pick your favorite three, but go easy on them.
    • Focus on the veggies for that nervous nibbling. 
    • Drink lots of water. It will help you feel full. 
    • Do lots of visualizing of the results you want.  An over-weight individual with various health issues versus an energized active individual who feels good.

A bend in the road is not the end of the road…unless you fail to make the turn. – author unknown 

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning. –Ivy Baker Priest 

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. – M. Kathleen Casey 

If you’re going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill

How to Deal with Holiday Triggers (by Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH) 

There are a lot of ways that a traumatic event can impact the experience of a holiday. Perhaps the holiday is an anniversary of the trauma. For a lot of people the holidays are a reminder of a loss, or of what is different now. Others are estranged from their families due to their trauma, or simply separated by circumstance. The following are some suggestions to deal with any triggers that arise. 


Have an anti-holiday 

Is it possible for you to just ignore the holiday? For some people, especially those with children, this is not an option. But if you’re lucky enough to have the flexibility, who says you have to celebrate anything at all? This year, my partner and I are going to the zoo on Thanksgiving. It’s not crowded, and then we will eat barbeque. Despite what I won’t have that day, I’m really excited about what I will have and focusing on that really helps. 


Be prepared for others to ask about your plans 

I have a lot of clients who were sexually assaulted by a family member, and whether or not they disclosed that, the holidays are a logistical challenge. A huge stressor is how to deal with friends and coworkers who make friendly inquiries into their holiday plans. If you don’t have plans you’re eager to share, popular options are, “Getting some much needed rest,” “catching up on personal projects” or “spending time with friends,” which is true even if your friends are movies and books. 


For those fortunate enough to have plans they want to share, it’s perfectly okay and socially acceptable to ask people what they’re up to for Thanksgiving (or really just about any break from work), but just appreciate that for some people this is a stressful question, so if the answer is “not much,” let it go. 


Plan ahead to have alternative arrangements 

Spending time with family can be really great for mental health—but who says it has to be the one you were born into? Join someone else’s! Or find some folks who are away from their families, or are from another country or religion and don’t necessarily celebrate whatever it is you grew up celebrating. While Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas do have very real objective meanings, it can be really empowering to give them your own. 


Recognize the Battles of the Holidays will occur.

Often just recognizing that something occurs is half the battle. Although wishing that things were different, comparing your situation to the happiness others are experiencing or worrying about how to get through the holidays are all perfectly understandable and even reasonable responses to holiday triggers. But they can also increase your anxiety of the holidays. An alternative is accepting the present situation as it is, which can allow you to move more quickly into planning your coping strategy and making the holidays fit your needs.