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  • Liz Morrison, LCSW

Why Are the Holidays So Hard on Mental Health? 5 Tips to Avoid Holiday Stress


‘Tis the season for…the holiday blues? Whether you’re still living at home or you’ve been away at college and are returning to your family for the holidays, this time of year can be stressful for many. Between increased expectations, external stressors, and underlying mental health conditions, there is a lot of room for anxiety and depression to crop up.


Every year around the holidays, we at Liz Morrison Therapy see a spike in anxiety, exhaustion, depression, and stress in our clients. If this is you, we want you to know there’s nothing wrong with you. In fact, it’s completely normal to feel this way. So why can holidays be so hard on mental health, and what can you do to manage it? Let’s talk about it.


Why Are the Holidays Stressful?


In general, the holidays often amplify existing mental health issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, 64% of people with underlying mental health problems said the holidays made these conditions worse.


Why? Well, for one thing, there are a lot of external stressors and expectations to deal with around the holidays – things like gift-giving, travel, and family gatherings. Furthermore, you might feel a lot of pressure to be happy and joyful all the time. And if you spend any time scrolling social media, you’ll likely see plenty of jolly content from friends and strangers alike. These posts can make it feel like everyone else is having fun except you. All that outside merriment and external pressure can stir up existing mental health issues and make you feel worse.


Another big holiday stressor for young people is having to deal with difficult family situations. Many people feel uncomfortable around their families but still feel obligated or pressured to return home. If you have to interact with relatives or family friends you dislike or who make you uncomfortable, it can cause a lot of worry and stress. And if you’ve lost a family member or don’t have a good relationship with your family, holidays can trigger intense loneliness and depression.


Another reason for your surge in holiday stress may be obligatory socializing. Group dynamics can be draining, and there’s a lot of social stimulation around the holidays. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the gatherings, parties, and events. This is especially true if you’re highly sensitive, neurodivergent, an introvert, or have social anxiety. Big gatherings and lots of family time can be fun, but they can also be incredibly tiring and stressful.


Yet another reason for the holiday blues might be travel anxiety. Crowded airports, tiny airplanes, jam-packed highways, and bad weather can all combine to create nightmarish conditions. If you already deal with travel anxiety, then holiday travel can feel like a huge hurdle to have to jump over. Not to mention the holidays can worsen financial stress because of things like travel costs and gift obligations.


5 Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress


The holidays can feel downright sad, stressful, and anxiety-inducing for many. Know that however you’re feeling, you’re not alone. To help you cope, here are 5 tips to reduce holiday stress.


1. Don’t compare yourself with others. Remind yourself not to compare your inner feelings with other people’s cheery Christmas cards or TikTok videos. Remember: you don’t know what’s really going on behind someone else’s highlight reels. Limit social media use if possible, and spend time talking with friends or family who understand how you’re feeling and support you.

2. Limit time at stressful gatherings. Don’t overcommit yourself to unpleasant gatherings and social events. Instead, prioritize your social commitments and say no to the ones you don’t want to attend. Drive separately or get a ride with Lyft or Uber, and excuse yourself when you want. Remember, you’re allowed to choose which activities you want to engage in – and which you don’t.


3. Set boundaries. Gathering with family can cause stress for a lot of people, especially if you don’t live at home anymore. In order to reduce holiday stress, practice setting boundaries around your time and energy. This might look like setting time limits on social gatherings, asking your family not to exchange large gifts this year so you can save money, or walking away when Uncle Bill makes a rude comment about your appearance.


4. Prioritize your mental health. It can be easy to get swept up in all the activities and lose sight of self-care basics. Don’t forget to take time for yourself and do things that help you feel grounded and calm. This might be going for walks with the family dog, baking cookies, reading, heading to the gym, journaling, working with a therapist, bundling up and sitting outside in the sunshine, or spending time with friends. Making time for whatever helps you feel good every day can help boost feel-good brain chemicals.


5. Reach out for connection and support. When mental health is low, it can be easy to self-isolate. But this only increases loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Make a point to reach out to friends and loved ones. Schedule a zoom date or phone call. Ask a friend to go for a walk with you. Join a support group in person or online. Find activities in your area that are fun and meaningful, like volunteering at the food bank, walking shelter dogs, or attending a local knitting club. Staying connected to your community and loved ones can help ease some of the holiday blues.


Therapy Can Help Reduce Holiday Anxiety and Depression


If you’re dreading the holidays, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to white-knuckle your way through them by yourself. If you’d like support navigating the holidays, we’re here to help. Together, we’ll help you learn to cope with difficult feelings, set boundaries with your family, and learn skills to prioritize your mental health.

Feel free to get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We can answer any questions you have, see whether we’re a good fit, and start working toward a better future today.

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