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Mental health during the holidays

By Kate Rockwood


The holidays are a festive and enjoyable time for many people, but they can be stressful and mentally taxing, too. Even time spent with loving, supportive families can be overwhelming in large doses. In a survey that asked people what stressed them out the most about the holidays, finances, healthy eating/exercise, picking the right gift, and tight schedules topped the list.


The holidays put a lot of demand on our time and money. There’s also a lot of pressure to live up to expectations. Understandably, making time for your mental health can get lost in the shuffle. But it’s important to make that a priority. You deserve to enjoy the holiday season as much as possible! Here are 5 ways to do that by protecting your mental health. 

1. Set boundaries

There can be a lot of pressure around the holidays to say yes to things. Yes to staying at your in-laws house for longer than you’d like, yes to inviting more people to your holiday gathering, and yes to spending more on gifts than you can afford. Nobody wants to come off sounding like a Grinch, but it’s important to set boundaries on your time. Don’t be afraid to turn down a social invitation if you're feeling overwhelmed or to opt out of a gift exchange if you don't have the budget for it. Come up with a plan for how you want to spend the holidays and try to stick to it. 

2. Practice gratitude

The holidays are a natural time to think about the good things in our lives, especially family and friends. But too often we also have to worry about money, crunched schedules and family dynamics. It can be helpful to carve out a little time every day or a few times a week to think about the things you’re grateful for. Maybe it’s an afternoon spent baking cookies with your kids, a kind neighbor, or a few more dollars in your paycheck that week. Practicing gratitude can help you cope with tough times and better enjoy good experiences, too. You might want to write down what you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal (here’s how to start one) or get the whole family involved and keep notes in a gratitude jar.

3. Prioritize sleep

A good night’s sleep isn’t a cure for everything, but it sure can help. Sleep is very important when it comes to our mood and mental health. Not getting enough quality sleep (most adults should get seven to eight hours a night) can make you feel irritable and sap your energy. Lack of sleep has also been linked to anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Holiday stress, eating big meals, drinking more alcohol, and having unpredictable schedules can mess with your sleep, so take a few steps to prioritize your sleep schedule: 

  • Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every night.

  • Don’t eat a big meal close to bed. 

  • Limit drinking caffeine to before 3 p.m. 

  • And do something relaxing before bedtime like taking a warm bath.

4. Get some fresh air

Exercise, sunlight, and fresh air are all good for your mood. Sunlight boosts your serotonin levels, the hormone that regulates your mood and behavior, and when you exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. A change of scenery can also improve your mood, so even if the weather outside is frightful, try and get outdoors for a few minutes every day. 

5. Stay connected

The holiday season is a busy time, but one thing that you shouldn’t put to the side are your therapy sessions. If you can help it, don’t cancel any scheduled therapy appointments. Even if you’re traveling you might be able to schedule a telehealth appointment with your therapist. That’s because the holidays can be stressful and bring up a lot of emotions. You should give yourself time to talk about and explore those feelings with your therapist or support group. Don’t have one? Check out this list of affordable or free options from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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