Surviving the Holidays Mentally: A Guide to Making the Holidays Easier

A popular holiday jingle says that “It's the most wonderful time of the year,” but not everyone in the world may agree. The holiday season is supposed to be full of joy and laughter but this may not be the case with people experiencing mental health issues.

The holiday season begins with Thanksgiving preparations until it's time to bring in the New Year with our loved ones. This time can be a reflection of memories with family, friends and those that we have lost along the way. These memories can cause happiness or unpleasant feelings such as frustration, sadness and loneliness.

When people fall into depression or anxiety during this time it’s usually known as   the “holiday blues.” This can range from missing a loved one or financial stress to prepare for each holiday.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people living with mental illness experience the holiday blues.

While doing research, WebMD documented that some people have a clinical diagnosis known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a major form of depression that can come and go with seasons.

Most may not have a diagnosis, but that doesn’t stop them from feeling the effects. Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same time. Scientists have been doing research, but they don’t know the exact causes of SAD yet. Some think that certain hormones in the brain trigger attitude-related changes at certain times of year.

Experts came up with the theory that when one receives less sunlight during the fall and winter, it leads to the brain making less serotonin, a chemical linked to brain pathways that regulate moods. When nerve cell pathways in the brain that regulate mood don't function normally, the result can be feelings of depression.

People with SAD have many of the normal warning signs of depression, including: less energy, trouble concentrating, fatigue, increased desire to be alone, greater need for sleep and weight gain.

Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or sadness of a loved one, so you can control them before you have a meltdown. Knowing and noticing your triggers can help you from being impulsive. Holiday parties and gatherings are often filled with temptation for negative coping such as binge drinking, overeating and shopping excessively. Not everyone is fortunate enough to spend time with their family and friends due to circumstances. Take advantage of the time you have.

The holidays are different for everyone. Throughout the course of a year our circumstances can change, leaving us not excited for the “most wonderful time of the year.”

If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones, recognize that it's okay to feel sadness and grief. Cry if you need to, it’s ok. You can't pressure yourself to be joyful simply due to the fact that it is the holiday season. When the loss of a loved one is weighing heavy on one's heart, what was once a joyful occasion may turn into a sad reminder of their presence not being there. For all those mourning the loss of a loved one, embrace your process. Don’t ignore your feelings or emotions. It is normal for you to have your grieving period.

Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless. By avoiding your feelings and emotions you can end up in a dark place that may take you awhile to come out of. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need it. Everyone needs to feed their bodies spiritually and mentally. The holiday season can take a toll on all of us, but it doesn’t have to if you feed yourself. There is a lot of things that weigh into a person’s mental health during the season which can lead to different coping mechanisms.

In many cases during the holiday season, potential shoppers state that commercials tend to be one of the many reasons we lose sight of the reason for the season. The holiday season should be a time of giving back, but a time to be grateful for what you already have. It is not always about the nice gifts that we receive, parties we attend or the big dinners. It is about spending time with those you love and being thankful for their presence in your life. During the holiday season, we want to have fun, but we cannot deny the stress that commercials place on us to spend in each and every store who has a sale. Stores send reminders to our inboxes and mailboxes to spend with coupons inside. The temptation to purchase our loved one’s happiness is not how we should spend this season. If shopping is what helps you distress, reflect on a list and discipline yourself. If you are purchasing gifts, plan in advance to create a budget. Even if you don’t have the finances, look for ways to exhibit your love in a different innovative form.

Don't let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. If you've been feeling depressed and have some of the above symptoms, see your doctor for an assessment. He or she will recommend the right form of treatment for you.

Take advantage of holiday gatherings to reconnect with family and friends while they are in town. As we get older our families begin to grow and the traditions we once knew tend to change as well. Make it a habit to choose a few to hold on to, and be open to growing new ones.

Consider creating a new tradition to honor your loved one. Think of their favorite things to do or fond memories you have with them and incorporate this into your holiday gatherings.

During the season, you can also volunteer your time by contributing to a homeless shelter, a group home or just to an organization in your community may lift your spirit up. With positive thinking and planning new traditions, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.