As a child, Christmas always seemed so far away — “five more sleeps” seemed like an eternity. However, as an adult, you may find yourself buying last-minute gifts at CVS on Christmas Eve because the holiday just isn’t as holly and jolly as it once was. The holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier each year and some people still find themselves scrambling to get last-minute shopping done or may find themselves alone on the holiday.

Whether you’re living with a mental health disorder or not, the holidays can amplify feelings of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression. Each person’s holiday situation varies but there are a number of triggers during the holidays that make it harder for someone who is struggling with their mental health.

In a 2015 survey by Mind, a mental health services organization, 20 percent of people reported that they had felt lonely during Christmas. The tree isn’t the only thing that’s being illuminated during the holiday season — if you’re feeling lonely, seeing a Publix ad on television featuring a smiling, laughing family sharing a holiday feast may bring your feelings of loneliness to light.

According to the Mind survey, approximately 36 percent of people with mental health disorders have self-harmed to cope with the stressors of Christmas. The survey revealed some surprising results regarding the dire impact that the holiday season has on some people’s mental health:

  • Nearly 60 percent of people have experienced panic attacks during the holidays
  • 52 percent of people surveyed considered harming themselves
  • 45 percent have considered suicide during this time of the year
  • 41 percent said that they felt their mental health declined because of finances like getting into debt
  • 83 percent reported that they were experiencing feelings of loneliness
  • 81 percent said they were more stressed or anxious during the holidays

christmas ornaments illustration

Identifying Triggering Tidings

Having to keep your mental health in check on a regular day can be challenging but adding the increased stresses of the holiday season may make it more difficult to maintain your mental health. If you are aware of why your mental health may take a dip around the same time as the temperature, you can prepare by identifying your triggers. Some reasons people may experience poor mental health during the holidays can include:

  • Finances
    • Buying gifts
    • Paying for travel and lodging
    • Buying all the season essentials (e.g., Christmas decorations, presents, food and drinks)
  • More alcohol
    • Alcohol is usually part of most holiday parties, so you may find yourself in the presence of people drinking more than usual. Alcohol is a depressant and can make your anxiety or mental health worse because alcohol exacerbates anxiety.
  • Social media
    • Social media sites can already perpetuate the idea of perfection, people’s lives usually appear better in photos than they actually are. By looking at or participating in social media during the holidays, you may increase the pressure on yourself to have a seemingly perfect Christmas.
  • The weather
    • Having to stay inside due to extreme cold can cause seasonal affective disorder. Seasonal affective disorder is defined as a type of depression that’s related to changes in the seasons.

What Can You Do To Increase Your Holiday Cheer?

Identifying your triggers is just one step to maintaining your mental health during the holidays, you have to make sure you’re actively working on your mental health stability. Some ways to combat feeling blah-humbug may include:

  • Share your feelings: You can talk with friends, family or a therapist. When you talk about how you’re feeling, it can make you feel better and improve your mood. By sharing your feelings, you may also find someone who can relate to you and when you feel understood, feelings of loneliness can decrease.
  • Hibernate from social media: Seeing cheerful posts and photos flooding your newsfeed can remind you that you aren’t feeling the same way that your Facebook friends appear to be feeling. You can step away from social media and delete the apps on your phone for 24 hours or 24 days. You can use this extra time you used to spend scrolling doing something else you enjoy like reading, writing, painting or going for a walk outside.
  • Practice self-care: You may be guilty of not taking time for self-care, especially during the hectic holiday season. If you need to, you could even schedule check-ins with yourself to ask yourself how you’re feeling and what you can do to improve your mental health.
  • Plan ahead: Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible during Christmas. By maintaining a mostly regular routine, you can help prevent the holidays from feeling overwhelming. Make lists for everything you have to do including what you need to do around the house, gifts you have to buy and any extra food you have to purchase. This will prevent you from forgetting anything and make it easier to budget, thus decreasing the possibility of feeling any extra stress. If you’re trying to avoid crowds at the mall you can do your shopping online, just make sure you give yourself time for shipping and handling.
  • Get Involved: The holiday season is a great time to volunteer and give back to your community. Helping someone else can make you feel better. If you aren’t able to be with your family during Christmas, volunteering can also allow you to have human interaction and feel less lonely.
  • Eat Well: One of the best parts of the holidays is the food, so it can be tempting to stuff your face with anything and everything that grandma bakes — but it’s important to remember that what you put into your body can affect your mental health as well as your physical health. Maintaining a healthy diet can improve your mood and help to prevent symptoms of feeling sluggish or irritable.
  • Exercise: It may seem like the last thing you want to do during the holidays, but physical activity releases chemicals, like endorphins, that may improve your mood. It can be as simple as walking in the park or around your neighborhood or joining in Christmas games and activities. Being active can help you reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and improve self-esteem.
  • Sleep: You may have more time off from work during the holidays but that doesn’t mean you should disrupt your sleep schedule. Regular sleep has been linked to overall wellbeing. Improvements in your quality of sleep can help you combat feelings of stress and anxiety during the holiday season.

The holidays can be a magical and bright time of the year, but not for everyone. The pressures and stresses of the season may be too much for someone who has a mental health disorder. But by identifying your triggers and using coping mechanisms that you may use throughout the rest of the year, you’ll be able to join in on some holiday cheer.

If you or someone you know struggles with their mental health or substance use, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a staff of professionals offers various treatment programs to suit your individual needs. Call and speak with a representative to find out which treatment program can work for you.