Mentally preparing for the holidays

This time of year can cause an abundance of stress and emotional turmoil, even for those with no mental health issues.
Nov. 17, 2015

Working in the mental health field for nearly 15 years, I’ve noticed patterns through the seasons and events that tend to dredge up certain feelings. The beginning of the school year is often challenging for young students, the springtime and hour of sleep lost can wreak havoc on sleep schedules for persons with mood disorders; and certain holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day, along with major sporting events can be associated with increased incidents of alcohol overuse and the problems associated with those instances.
Create and nurture friendships throughout the year to maintain a positive support system.
But, the big daddy of them all is surely the holidays, which start sometime around Thanksgiving and end a little after New Year’s Day. This time of year can cause an abundance of stress and emotional turmoil, even for those with no mental health issues.

NAMI offers these 10 tips to help with holiday anxiety or depression.

  • Stick to normal routines as much as possible
  • Get enough sleep or rest
  • Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate yourself
  • Eat and drink in moderation and don’t drink alcohol if you are feeling down
  • Get exercise, even if it’s only taking a short walk
  • Make a to-do list and keep things simple
  • Set reasonable expectations and goals for holiday activities such as shopping, cooking, entertaining, attending parties or sending holiday cards
  • Set a financial budget for holiday activities
  • Listen to music
  • Remember that holiday blues are short-term, so be patient and take things week by week and day by day

Check out more from NAMI on holiday depression.

Traditional holiday events of family gatherings, gift giving and potentially increased workload affect many of us for several reasons. This may include financial and time pressures of travel, the compulsion or expectations to buy gifts or the seeming need to acknowledge everyone, from each coworker to the mail carrier, and the list goes on.

Also, bringing extended family together may dig into old wounds of past trauma or unhealthy family dynamics. A lack of free time to attend to these extra “obligations” (as they are often felt) can lead to overextending one’s self.

For persons already experiencing the challenges of managing a mental health disorder, such as major depression, post traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder or recent bereavement, the holidays are often approached with dread and avoidance. For those with a limited social support network, little contact with family or uncoupled singles, the holidays can leave one feeling left out and on the fringes.

Fortunately, as a natural problem-solver, my mental health colleagues and I are keen to find ways to help and nurture hope. There are several helpful websites easily located by searching under topics such as “coping with holiday stresses” (such as, NAMI-National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and Psychology Today), and their summaries of suggestions can help the average person learn how to identify and address some of the culprits of their distress.

Suggestions may include good self-care, avoiding the tendency to isolate and avoiding substances, such as alcohol, that can increase depression. A proactive approach we recommend is to create and nurture friendships throughout the year, and singles can often join with other singles through social or spiritual groups.

Nevertheless, the best-laid plans may often go astray. More so, some of us may already be struggling with day-to-day life before the holidays even hit, and these practical suggestions to pick yourself up from a low place are just not practical or possible. If this holiday turns out not to be the one you’ve always dreamed of, it’s never too late to make a fresh start. Seeking care and support now can change your life for the future.

Find out more about mental health services at UCHealth.

Dr. Jerome is a board certified adult psychiatrist at Poudre Valley Hospital Behavioral Health Clinic at Mountain Crest.