Mental Health for the Holidays

The holidays are a fun, festive and family-oriented time of year, and many of us anticipate the holidays with excitement. But the holiday season can also bring with it stress, grief, or other mental health issues. When stress is at its peak, can be hard to stop and regroup.

If you’re the kind of person for whom the holidays offer more chaos than cheer, here are some tips to help you maintain good mental health during the holidays.

Acknowledge your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.  Some people really don’t need to know why you’re not in that ‘spirit’, but others will want to support you - so let them know.

Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship.

Volunteer. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. But don’t over-volunteer. Give yourself permission to say ‘no’. 

Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. Traditions and rituals are most meaningful when they change. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

Set aside differences. Accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.

Stick to a budget. Before you go gift or food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. You can even try these alternatives:

  • Donate to a charity in someone's name. Choose a cause or organization that is important to your loved one: animal shelters, charities, research groups or community organizations are great options.
  • Give homemade gifts.
  • Start a family gift exchange.

Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. This will help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And, if you’re hosting an event, make sure to ask for help with party preparation and cleanup.

Don't abandon healthy habits. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks. Get plenty of sleep. Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.

Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find an activity that reduces stress and helps you clear your mind, slow your breathing and restore inner calm. Some idea are:

  • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
  • Listening to soothing music in a quiet room.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Reading a book.

Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings become intrusive and affect your daily living, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

AtlantiCare offers a "Getting through the Holidays" Grief Support Group which will meet November 18, 2015. Call 609-407-2020 for more information or to register.

For help in an emergency, call 911.

For mental health assessment and support, call the Atlantic County Crisis Center 609-344-1118

Cydney Savage is the director of Adult Outpatient Services at AtlantiCare Behavioral Health.