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How the Holidays Impact Your Mental Health

Winter holidays can be a magical time of year for your family. Songs, bright lights, gift-giving, time off, and seeing children's faces light up with smiles at their surprise gifts all add to the season's joy.



Yet there can be downsides to this time of year. Stress from travel plans and schedules can make the holidays more hectic. If you're hosting family gatherings, you may have to navigate people who don't like each other. If you miss a loved one during the holiday season, those feelings can ruin the happy time of year.


Take a look at our guide to how the holidays and mental health can cause issues and how to mitigate negative feelings.


Why Do People Feel Stress Around the Holidays?

A survey from the American Psychological Association notes 38 percent of the 786 people polled felt additional stress around the winter holiday season. Several facts from the survey point to reasons why people feel more stressed out at this time, many of which come from the pressure of the season to make everyone feel happy.


Women are more likely to report feeling stressed due to meal preparation, decorating, and taking charge of family events from late November into December. They also tend to help more when preparing children for the holidays.


How the Holidays and Mental Health Affect You

Discover ways in which the holidays and mental health may cause some difficulties.


Financial Pressures

Lower-middle-income families feel more stress due to the commercialization of the holiday and increased pressure to spend more money on items for gifts. Extra spending can lead to financial pressures of needing to work more while balancing family obligations. All of the activities can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed.


So Much to Do, So Little Time

Lack of time to get things done when balancing work, children, and family obligations are already busy. Then combine those with buying gifts, planning a winter vacation, and making travel arrangements. This can lead to a hectic time for everyone.


Obligations to Kids

Moms and dads often feel they must make the holidays work for their kids, even amid the pressures. Challenges are exacerbated when trying to handle finances and time crunches.


Grieving Over a Lost Loved One

Grief and loss can also come into play with the holidays and mental health, notes Mayo Clinic. Missing a loved one, whether a parent, grandparent, sibling, or even a child, can make the holidays sad because someone misses that person and only has past, happy memories of the holidays to cling to for comfort.


Making Mental Illness Worse

McLean Hospital notes that the winter holidays can be particularly difficult for people already battling a mental health challenge. Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of people living with mental illness, felt as if their conditions worsened during winter holiday months.


Not Enough Sunlight

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can also lead to sadness due to less sunlight and shorter daylight hours. One underlying cause comes from less vitamin D due to reduced sunlight.


This does seem like a lot to think about as the holidays approach. However, once you know what to watch for, you can identify your feelings and help yourself when you sense the stress of the holidays and your mental health.


How to Fight Stress and Anxiety During Winter Holidays

Take a look at some ways to take control of the holidays and your mental health at this time of year.


Accept Your Feelings

The most important thing to remember is that you can feel differently than everyone else does when thinking about the holidays and mental health. If you don't feel enthusiastic about the holidays, that is completely okay. Feelings are part of being human, and you shouldn't feel pressure to have a certain emotion during the holidays. Accept your feelings as they are. It's healthy to acknowledge that you don't feel happiness or joy around the winter holidays.


Find Others Who Feel the Same as You

There are other people who feel the same as you do. You should seek out those types of people, connect with them, and make new memories during the winter holidays that edify your life. Knowing that others feel the same as you can uplift your spirits.


Understand and Communicate Your Limitations

Accept your limitations. Everyone has limitations. Let your family know that you may need extra help with the holidays during a particular year. Prioritize the most important things about the holidays for you and your family. Is it more important to attend your company holiday party or buy gifts for your children? Should you decorate on the day after Thanksgiving or go shopping at the mall?


Maintain Some "Me" Time

Take time for self-care. You already have work and family obligations. Don't forget about obligations to yourself. If you don't take time for yourself, how are you going to spend time with others? Spend a little bit of time every day doing things that make you happy, whether it's reading the latest bestseller, doing yoga, going for a jog, or relaxing in the bathtub surrounded by candles.


Stick to a Budget

Set a budget and stick to it. You'll feel pressure from your kids, partner, and family to buy specific gifts or make vacation plans. If you already know this is coming, set a budget weeks in advance and don't waiver from it no matter how much begging, pleading, or advertising you see.


Head Outside

As noted earlier, seasonal affective disorder can be caused by less sunlight in the winter months. Get more sunlight or take vitamin D supplements. In the winter months, get outside in the mid-afternoon at the peak of warmth. If you can't get outside, special daylight lamps for your home can do wonders to brighten (pun intended) your mood when natural sunlight is lacking.


Eat Healthy to Support Your Brain

Eat healthy during the holidays. You might be tempted to indulge in more sweets and holiday food. Try to eat healthy foods at this time to help your body maintain its physical and emotional health. Combine lean protein, healthy grains, and colorful vegetables for a well-balanced meal when you want to help the holidays and mental health.


Your health and wellness shouldn't take a holiday, even if you do every November and December. Keep these tips in mind as you navigate the holidays, spend more time with family, and travel to see distant relatives. Take some time out to assess the holidays and mental health before the calendar turns to the end of the year.

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