Caring for your Mental Health During the Holiday Season

It is a stressful time of year for many people. For those struggling with mental health issues, it can be incredibly difficult. Here are a few suggestions to help you care for your mental health during this season.

Start by thinking back to previous years, what was the most enjoyable parts of previous seasons? Make sure that those things are central in your planning, in terms of how much time you spend on these, versus the parts you enjoyed the least. If you have kids, ask them what they liked best about previous years. You might be surprised. It may not be the gifts.

Consider your social limits

 For busy people: 

  • If you have multiple events or some events which tend to be especially trying, consider planning to get there right at the beginning and leaving early.
  • Skip one event this year.
  • If some groups are more difficult to engage with, plan activities, or offer to help in the kitchen, or plan an activity with the children. Also see Social Anxiety – A Holiday Survival Kit and “The More We Get Together…” Managing Family Conflict over the Holidays
  • For events you plan, even family events, consider inviting people who don’t have a lot of family around and may be on their own, during this season.
  • Plan down time. In your holiday schedule, plan at least a day without any major events or activities, just spending time together with your immediate family, play a game, watch a movie, read books. Chill out. 

When You’re not busy

When holidays are quiet, it can feel like there is pressure to try and fill your schedule so it doesn’t feel too empty.

  • Think about what kinds of things you actually enjoy doing and don’t try and add things just to fill space, however, consider trying new things. Look online to see what events are happening in the city, meet ups, concerts, etc.
  • Plan for a variety of things, including some things you will go out and do alone, things you will do with friends or family and time you will have alone at home.
  • For the alone at home time, plan for the things that you enjoy, think, food, physical sensations (hot bath, cozy blanket, etc.), entertainment, book, games, movie, music, etc. and enjoy this time. Give yourself a gift. It might be a new book, or a movie you save until your alone time. Check out What do You Really Need? – A 6 Step Complete Self-Care Assessment Guide
  • Make back up plans for events that fall through, and be open to spontaneity.
  • Think of a set number of people (whatever you have energy for) who are not in your immediate friend circle, but whom you suspect might be on their own, to invite to do something with. Keep going through the list, until you’re done. If no one says yes, then carry one with your original plans.

Consider your budget 

In my opinion, a disproportionate weight of the holidays is related to gifts. Stress related to shopping and stress related to budget can add to the stress over all. For parents this is a big one:

For Parents

  • If you have children, include them in this discussion. Let them know the limits of the budget. For example, “This year I/we will be spending $____ on each of you. Ask them to work on a wish list and add prices to each item on their list so they know how much each item costs. Ask them to put their list in order of what they most want, to items that are less important. This will manage expectations about what they will be getting.
  • Encourage kids who get allowances or have ways to earn money to buy something for a sibling, cousin or friend out of their own money.
  • You might also plan to spend less on gifts for each other and put a percentage towards a charity that kids help to choose.

For Everyone

  • Baking is a great gift.
  • Home made gift cards offering, babysitting, a date, use of your vehicle, whatever it is you have to offer, can be a valuable gift of time instead of money.
  • Remember, your friendship, your interest in the lives of people around you is a gift. This will not diminish if the store bought gifts cost less than others.
  • If you hate shopping, plan to treat some to lunch, or a show.

Consider your physical wellbeing

  • If you have dietary restrictions, the holidays can be difficult. Plan your ‘cheats’ ahead of time. Bring a dish that you can eat to share at an event
  • Pay attention to sleep.  Plan your activities to ensure the best chance of getting a good sleep.
  • If you are spending time with a lot of people for an extended period of time, you might suggest some type of physical activity during your visit, a walk, sledding, skating, skiing, etc.
  • Be conscious of alcohol consumption. Plan ahead and find a ‘buddy’ to help keep you accountable to the amount you plan to consume and to keep each other safe.

When it’s not a happy time of year

Loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, conflict with family. For many people, there are many reasons that the holidays are especially difficult. Be gentle with yourself. You are allowed to grieve during this time.

  • Put aside some time specifically to remember a loss. See Giving Grief the Time of Day
  • Choose the easiest events to attend. You don’t have to do it all, but also, don’t avoid it all.
  • Create a new tradition for this year. 

See also 5 Ways We Respond to Other People’s Tragedies and Grief Without Death.


All the best to you over the next couple of weeks, stay well.

3 thoughts on “Caring for your Mental Health During the Holiday Season

  1. Pingback: When All is Not Merry & Bright | It's Not Just You

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