Updated: Aug 9
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
The holiday season can be exciting and joyous. There are some things that are so special about this time of year. Snow falling. All the lights. Christmas music. Tree decorating. Gift shopping. Turkey roasting.
Despite all of these perks, the holidays can also bring feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone. There are many people like you out there who may feel more of a sense of dread than happiness when it comes to this season.
Some common examples of types of holiday stressors – and ways to cope – are outlined below. Hopefully, these tips can bring you some comfort if you feel distressed over the holidays.
1. Family dynamics
While we may have good relationships with some of our relatives, other family dynamics may fill us with anxiety, sadness, fear, and stress.
To protect your mental health, set time limits regarding how often and how long you engage with certain people, figure out how to manage difficult conversations by having some handy phrases in mind if you need to shut down topics that make you uncomfortable, and be sure to connect with people over the holidays who you feel you can truly be yourself with.
2. Major life changes/transitions
The one constant in life is change. You may be starting – or ending – a relationship, moved out of the family home (or are moving back in), or perhaps you are newly married, having a new baby, recently retired, or even relocated to a new city.
Whatever the kind of change you are dealing with, you may feel that you either receive comfort from old holiday traditions or that you want to seek out new holiday traditions that fit well with your current life phase.
Holiday festivities don’t have to be set in stone. You can cultivate a small set of traditions - including a mixture of the old with the new - that suits your current situation.
3. Social Anxiety
Not everyone feels comfortable in a crowd. If the idea of never-ending social events over the holiday season makes you feel highly nervous, then it may make sense for you to engage with those you care about on a smaller scale as that may feel more manageable to you.
Doing this still allows you to practice going outside of your comfort zone to combat your anxiety so that you learn you can cope, while also making sure the social scenario doesn’t go beyond your perception of your capacity to cope.
Reflect on your wins in the events you do attend and use that to help build your confidence for the upcoming social obligations that you choose to put on your calendar.
On the opposite end is feeling lonely due to not having enough social contact. Loneliness can lead to a depressed mood, which can lead to other issues (e.g. substance use, withdrawal from social interactions, disengagement from activities that used to bring you joy, low motivation, etc.).
If you are feeling lonely, then it may be helpful for you to connect with family and friends whenever possible over the holiday season and beyond to keep isolation at bay.
Even if it is just a text, email, or a coffee date – every way of spending time together is valuable and important.
If you have a very small social network, consider ways you can get involved in your community through local meet-up groups, community events, volunteering at a charity that is important to you, joining a religious institution in your neighbourhood (if relevant), participating in an online interest group, and other such strategies.
Feeling connected to others can bring you a sense of belonging and togetherness, which are key factors for your well-being.
If you have lost a loved one recently, the emotional pain may be especially hard to bear over the holidays.
For those who are thinking often about those they have lost, find a way to honour them in a special way that brings you some peace, acknowledge your feelings, and give yourself space to grieve. You don’t have to pretend to be happy if you’re not.
Respect your feelings and surround yourself with things that comfort and bring you joy during this difficult time.
With all of the social media craze over the holidays about having the perfectly decorated home, the perfect holiday meal spread, and a picture-perfect outfit, it’s no wonder that people become caught up in perfectionism, especially if this is something they struggle with in their day to day lives.
If this affects you, then please just do the best you can - and know that it is enough.
Similarly, overthinking can be a common issue with the endless choices and options to pick from in terms of what to buy, what to eat, what to wear, and so on.
Sometimes, the best way of dealing with this is to make a simple plan for your celebrations and stick to it.
The holidays can bring a lot of expectations – of ourselves and others – and we may notice we overextend ourselves by doing just one more thing.
Before we know it, we’re exhausted, stressed, and burned out from the holidays, rather than being able to focus on peace and quiet joys.
Some ideas for how to manage this issue are: create boundaries, don’t say “yes” to every invite, participate based on your comfort level, and carve out time for yourself to rest and relax.
9. Financial stress
Gift-giving can be very expensive and it can be easy to get swept up in the buying frenzy. However, it’s important to be mindful of your expenses and not to spend more than you can afford.
Avoid going into debt for the holidays. Set a gift budget based on what works for you and don’t go beyond it.
10. Substance use
For those who are affected by addiction, the holidays can be a very challenging time as the alcohol tends to flow more freely and it may be difficult to avoid temptation. Once you start, it may be hard to stop, and this may lead you to regret what you say or do in the presence of your loved ones.
If you have concerns about substance use, be selective about who you spend time with (e.g. try to avoid spending time with those who enable your substance use), limit your consumption, and let trusted others know your goal of abstaining or reducing your substance use so that they can support you.
Also, there are many public and private mental health supports that focus on helping people manage their addiction, so please search for options in your area and access them if you need help.
While the holidays can be a happy time for many, it can be a difficult time for others for the reasons outlined above. You might also experience ups and downs before, during, and after this season and that is understandable. Remember - you're not alone.
If you are struggling, please lean on your loved ones and reach out to a mental health professional for support. Let’s get through this together and look forward to the year ahead.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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