Six Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the Festive Season

Happy African American woman greeting someone and waving while looking through window of a cafe.

For all its festive joy and sparkle, the holiday season can often be a time of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and estrangement for many people.

According to psychologist Paula Durlofsky, the holiday blues can stem from a variety of factors.

These factors include pre-existing mental health issues, seasonal affective disorder, a recent loss, the anniversary of the loss of a loved one, jam-packed social commitments, emotional and financial pressures from family and friends, and family strife. (Minding Your Mental Health This Holiday Season, Psychology Today, Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. 21 November 2022.) 

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to protect your mental health during the festive season, which we’ll explore in this article.

In the meantime, if you or a loved one are struggling to cope or are concerned about your mental health during the festive break, you are not alone; help and support are available.

Contact a friendly specialist at Centres for Health and Healing today and kickstart your journey to lasting healing and wellness.

Why the festive season can be challenging for some people 

The festive season can elicit various unpleasant feelings and emotions, particularly for those who are already struggling with their mental health, substance addiction, or other issues.

The holiday season can remind us of who and what we don’t have.

For example, if you are experiencing money worries, your anxiety may worsen around the holidays. Or, if you’ve recently lost a loved one, you may find your grief heightens in the run-up to the festive season.

Other factors that may contribute to a person’s stress and anxiety during the festive period include the following: 

  • High expectations 

Cultural pressures to create the perfect holiday experience can lead to stress, anxiety, and feelings of shame and inadequacy for many, particularly regarding gift-giving and hosting.

  • Overcommitment 

Many people experience fatigue and burnout during the festive season due to overcommitting to social events and familial obligations. 

  • Seasonal affective disorder 

Despite the celebrations and unwrapping of gifts, the festive period can be profoundly challenging for those with mental health conditions such as SAD, also called seasonal affective disorder

SAD is a mental health condition that occurs during the winter months as a result of reduced sunlight and shorter days, which can have a profound impact on a person’s mood and energy levels.

Portrait of candid authentic dreamer boy teenager in sadness depressing emotion at home Xmas

If you find yourself feeling more anxious, depressed, or lonely as the festive season approaches, you may find it helpful to speak to an experienced therapist or counsellor.

A mental health professional can help you make sense of your feelings and emotions and suggest various coping strategies to help you survive the festive season.

Let’s look at other ways to care for yourself during the holidays.

Six ways to protect your mental health during the festive season

Although the festive season can serve as a trigger to many, there are various things you can do to protect your mental health, including the following:

1. Recognise your holiday triggers

We’ve all been there.

The big day arrives, and someone at the dinner table, likely a family member or close relative, blurts out an unwanted question or observation in your direction.

When this happens, it’s all you can do to bite your tongue and paste a smile on your face without giving in to rage, frustration, or other intense emotions bubbling up inside you.

Researchers note the importance of identifying your holiday triggers so that when something crops up, you’ll be better placed to manage your responses and practice self-regulation. 

Dr Dorlufsky explains that triggers can be people, places, objects, and things that remind us of a past trauma or upsetting event. 

Some examples of holiday triggers might be stressful or traumatic memories, stressful family relationships, or the anniversary of the loss of a loved one. 

Knowing your unique holiday triggers helps curb emotional reactivity, helping you to put plans in place to reduce holiday-related stress. (Minding Your Mental Health This Holiday Season, Psychology Today, Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. 21 November 2022.)

Studies suggest that self-soothing practices can help individuals manage their holiday triggers.

These practices include going for a walk, taking a long bubble bath, doing yoga or a meditation, or calling a supportive friend, which can be profoundly beneficial for those who feel triggered or activated during the festive season.

 2. Establish firm boundaries

Friends meeting in the restaurant

Societal and cultural expectations during the festive season can have us doing all kinds of things that keep us out of alignment with who we are and what we stand for.

Therefore, you must establish healthy boundaries with family members, close relatives, friends, and anyone else you encounter!

This may look different for everyone. 

However, communicating your limits clearly and assertively about what you can (and can’t) handle regarding social commitments and events is an excellent place to start.

If you have trouble setting boundaries with others, speaking to an experienced professional can help. 

Contact our friendly team today for further information and support on boundary-setting.

3. Detox from social media

Dr Durlofsky posits that individuals who struggle with their mental health during the festive season may benefit from a good old social media detox.

She explains that limiting or taking a break from social media can save people from engaging in the self-sabotaging cycle of ‘compare and despair’. (Minding Your Mental Health This Holiday Season, Psychology Today, Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. 21 November 2022.)

Constant news feed scrolling can be particularly harmful, especially for those dealing with the loss of a loved one, going through a breakup, or experiencing mental health issues because of the constant stream of festive family photos, reels and videos being uploaded during this time of year.

Durlofsky suggests that people limit their social media use during the festive season to protect their mental health and conserve energy.

4. Set yourself a sensible budget

Planning your festive spending to avoid financial stress during the holiday season can be extremely helpful.

Many people feel pressured into buying expensive gifts for loved ones, leaving many in the red long after the holiday season has ended.

Experts recommend that people focus on thoughtful gestures instead of expensive gifts.

By being more mindful about your spending during the festive season, your mental health (and bank balance) will thank you in the long term!

5. Practice self-compassion and empathy

Drinking tea in Christmas mood

Researchers note that practising self-compassion can help reduce feelings of shame and inadequacy, especially during the festive period when expectations are much higher than usual.

The advice is to ‘treat yourself like you would a good friend’.

So, why not treat yourself to your favourite coffee or indulge in a long, hot shower after a busy day of festive celebrations?

After all, you deserve it!

Another good rule of thumb is to practise self-talk that includes soothing or affectionate words. Physical touch (such as hugging yourself) is another example of self-compassion. (Minding Your Mental Health This Holiday Season, Psychology Today, Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. 21 November 2022.)

6. Seek support

Another way to protect your mental health during the festive season is to seek support from family members, friends, and, if need be, a counsellor or therapist.

Sharing our thoughts and feelings with others can be highly cathartic and can help alleviate anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms.

Pre-existing mental health issues can often be exacerbated during the festive period, triggering various unpleasant thoughts and feelings that can sometimes be difficult to manage by yourself.

Therefore, you must seek the support of a trusted friend, family member or therapist to help you through the challenging moments.

For those struggling to cope during the festive season, Dr Durlofsky explains that permitting yourself to ask for help and getting the support of a professional can make a big difference. 

Sometimes, our own efforts to improve our holiday-related stress or our emotional health around this time of year are not as effective as we had hoped. (Minding Your Mental Health This Holiday Season, Psychology Today, Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D. 21 November 2022.)

When feeling overwhelmed, seeking the support of an experienced mental health professional is imperative and can help you manage your symptoms and develop healthy coping skills.

A word from Centres for Health and Healing

The holidays are a time for family gatherings, festive celebrations, gift-giving and sharing familiar traditions.

But it can also be a time of extreme stress, pressure, and financial and emotional burden for many.

Therefore, making time for yourself, setting boundaries, and doing the things you enjoy can make a monumental difference in how you cope during the festive season.

Remember that it’s your holiday too, so spend it doing what brings you the most joy and happiness.

If you know the holidays will be stressful, it can help to put strategic plans in place. This may include scheduling some ‘me time’, exercising, talking to a friend, and setting aside time for self-care.

The bottom line? 

Do not be afraid to do whatever you need to protect your mental health during the festive season.

Centres for Health and Healing can help

Shot of a young woman having a warm drink while bonding with her partner at home

At Centres for Health and Healing, we provide holistic treatment programs for various mental health disorders shaped around your personal preferences and therapeutic needs.

Our team takes great pride in treating the whole person, not just the symptoms of mental illness, combining traditional treatment methods, ancient wisdom, and the latest research to ensure deep, transformational healing.

Recovery is a lifelong journey. Therefore, we are also committed to providing a comprehensive aftercare plan to empower and encourage you to maintain lasting well-being and recovery after leaving our treatment centre.

We aim to guide and support you and your loved ones through your recovery transformation and provide the necessary tools for you to lead a positive and fulfilling life.

Please get in touch with us at our recovery centre in Ontario to learn more about our mental health treatment programs.

Contact our friendly team today for further information and resources.

We are here and ready to help you.

Additional resources

  1. Minding Your Mental Health This Holiday Season, Psychology Today, Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D., 21 November 2022
  2. Managing the Seemingly Inevitable Holiday Season Stress, verywell mind, Elizabeth Scott, PhD., 6 December 2022 
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