8 Ways to Support Your Mental Health During the Holidays
Contrary to what popular songs lead us to believe, the holidays are not always the most wonderful time of the year. For many, they’re marked by symptoms of depression or anxiety, and feelings of sadness, or loneliness. According to a survey conducted by Healthline, 62% of people experience elevated stress during the holidays. 44% report that the holidays are "somewhat stressful" and 18% report that they're "very stressful".1
There are many reasons you might not be feeling overwhelming joy over the holidays, and that’s okay. From dreading a reunion with challenging family members to stressing about the high cost of gift-giving, the holidays are a busy time packed with an unusual amount of triggers.
Mental Health Tips for the Holidays
Regardless of the source of your holiday blues, there are steps you can take to reduce and alleviate the symptoms you may be experiencing. With these eight tips, you can head into the next few months with a mindset focused on protecting and bettering your mental health. Who knows -- maybe you might even find a way to enjoy the holidays to the fullest!
1) Acknowledge Your Feelings
First, you need to acknowledge the feelings you're experiencing and understand that you're not alone. In a survey conducted on holiday stress, the American Psychological Association (APA) found that 44% of women and 31% of men experience higher levels of stress during the holiday season.2 For those already struggling with mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 64% found their mental health worsened during the holidays.3 4
Between shopping, cooking, routine changes, family gatherings, and high expectations, changes in our mental health are really not that surprising during the holiday season. While it’s normal to not feel merry and bright, you shouldn’t ignore those feelings. Instead, label your feelings and validate your experience.
Once you have acknowledged your feelings, try to get to the bottom of why you are feeling this way:
- Is your budget tight and you’re worried about getting gifts?
- Have you just lost a loved one and this is the first holiday without them?
- Does a holiday diet bring on feelings of shame or guilt?
After correctly labeling, accepting, and understanding your feelings, you’ll be better prepared for the holiday season.3
2) Be Realistic
Unrealistic expectations are the source of a lot of holiday stress. As much as you’d like to have control over your feelings, you can’t force yourself to be happy. But what you can do is shift your perspective and be more realistic about what you can expect.
If you can’t spend the holidays with your family this year, is there someone else you can spend time with who brings you joy? If you’ve recently moved and haven’t made any friends yet, how can you reframe this holiday season to be one of discovery and exploration of your new home?
If your family holiday dinner is always a stressful ordeal, how can you shift your energy away from that dinner onto a new tradition with friends instead?
Set yourself up for success by shifting the lens through which you view the holiday season. Acknowledging the challenges you’ll be facing and thinking through ways to reframe expectations can go a long way in improving your happiness.
3) Plan Ahead
If you’re someone who gets overwhelmed by the holiday season, start making a plan today for all your tasks and deadlines. This way, nothing comes up last minute and you feel more on top of all that you have to do.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Buy a planner: Outline all your upcoming events and activities and start holding time on the calendar for everything you need to get done.
- Make a gift list: Make a note on your phone or in a planner of all the people you need to purchase gifts. Then throughout the month as you think of ideas, write them down. This will make it easier to have things to pick from when you go shopping.
- Stick to a budget: If you’re worried about going overboard with your spending, identify your gift-giving total early. This gives you a number to stick to so you can make a plan for lower-budget gift alternatives.
- Communicate expectations: If you don’t ask for what you need, you won’t get it. So if you need help this year with the cooking or know you’ll be lonely this holiday season, reach out to your friends and family now and let them know what you need.
- Create new traditions: Instead of spending your holidays in the same way you always do (and feeling less than stellar as a result) plan to change things up this year. Say no to the stressful events or traditions you hate and start new ones instead!
4) Take Time for Self-Care
As you’re planning ahead, make sure you’re also scheduling time for self-care. The holiday season can feel so centered on making other people happy that it’s easy to forget to take care of yourself.
Here are some ways to combat the high stress of the holiday season with “you” time:
- Read a book or enjoy a glass of wine in a bubble bath
- Wrap and give yourself a gift
- Schedule an outing just for fun with friends or family
- Start a new fitness routine
- Sign up for a weekly yoga or meditation class
- Listen to your favorite music or podcast as you take daily walks outside
- Schedule a massage during a week you know will be stressful
- Say no to an event you don’t want to attend and cuddle up with a movie instead
- Take a nap and make sure you’re getting enough sleep every night
5) Set Boundaries
Part of taking time for self-care during the holiday season is learning how to say “no” and setting healthy boundaries for yourself.
If you know the mental health triggers that cause you the greatest stress, setting up boundaries ahead of time to protect yourself is a great way to exert more control over the situation. Communicate those boundaries with friends and family members if you need to and do what you can to stick to them.
6) Get Outside
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition that can impact your mental health during the holiday season, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere.4 But even if you don’t have SAD, the shorter days and colder weather can still result in worsened moods.
Light up your home with candles and bright lights and make sure to get outside during the day as often as you can. Go for a run, take a walk with your dog, or even position your desk by the window. Access to sunlight helps lessen the impact of your holiday blues.
7) Eat Healthy, Gut-Supporting Foods
Your gut can have a pretty big impact on your mental health. This is called the gut-brain axis and there’s mounting evidence that a healthy gut with a diversity of microbiota is essential for both normal digestive function and mental well-being.5
When the holiday season rolls around and your diet changes with more alcohol, low-fiber, and high-sugar foods (not to mention added stress!), this can throw your gut into an unhealthy state. And nobody wants to deal with bloating, nausea, constipation, or other unpleasant digestive challenges during the holidays.
To help keep your digestive system on track here are some healthy diet tips for the holiday season (and all year round!):
- Load up on high-fiber foods: A high-fiber diet can help support your digestive health by moving things along and feeding the live and beneficial bacteria in your gut. Here are some great high-fiber food options.
- Add probiotics: Probiotics are living organisms that benefit our health when we consume them. Some great probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and miso.
- Reduce alcohol intake: When you’re feeling stressed or your gut is off-balance, alcohol will only worsen the situation. Opt for healthier (and gut-supporting!) drink alternatives like OLIPOP instead.
- Swap out added sugar: Extra added sugar from holiday treats can do a number on your gut. Check out these five tips for reducing your intake of added sugar to keep your sugar levels low this holiday season.
- Try OLIPOP: OLIPOP contains prebiotic fibers that help maintain healthy bowel movements and support a healthy microbiome. Plus, each can is free from unsavory ingredients that can work against your healthy holiday goals.
To learn more about the gut-brain connection check out our blog post The Gut-Brain Axis: How Your Microbiome and Mental Health
8) Find Support
Going through a challenging time alone is always going to be harder than having a community there to support you. Reach out to close friends or family members and let them know how you’re feeling. Or join a community, support, or volunteer group to create more connections and open up the circle of people you can talk to.
This might also be a good time to seek professional help as well. They can help you talk through the more difficult emotions you’re experiencing, especially if none of the strategies above appear to be helping.
Holidays and Mental Health: The Takeaway
This can be a challenging time of the year but it doesn’t always have to be. With a little planning, realistic expectation setting, self-care, and a can of gut-supporting OLIPOP you might even find some holiday cheer. And remember, the holidays don’t last forever!
- Mills, D. (2016, August 16). Big meals, tight schedules and wallets: what stresses us most at the holidays. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/what-stresses-us-most-at-the-holidays-113015
- Greenberg, A., & Berktold, J. (2006). Holiday Stress. Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. Published. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf
- Guide to Managing Mental Health Around the Holidays. (2020, December 8). McLean Hospital. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/mcleans-guide-managing-mental-health-around-holidays
- NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2014, October 19). Mental Health and the Holiday Blues [Press release]. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues
- Suganya, K., & Koo, B. S. (2020). Gut-Brain Axis: Role of Gut Microbiota on Neurological Disorders and How Probiotics/Prebiotics Beneficially Modulate Microbial and Immune Pathways to Improve Brain Functions. International journal of molecular sciences, 21(20), 7551.
- It's normal to experience some holiday blues. Start by acknowledging your feelings and understanding why the holidays cause you stress.
- Other mental health tips include setting realistic expectations, planning ahead, taking time for self-care, setting boundaries, getting outside for some sunshine, and finding support if you need it.
- Your gut can also have a pretty big impact on your mental health so don't forget to load up on fiber-rich foods like OLIPOP.
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