10 Tips for Managing Your Holiday Mental Health

By Angela Phillips, PhD, LICSW

For some of us, the holidays are a time we look forward to all year long. For others, holidays exacerbate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression–or may create more relationship strain compared to other times during the year.

If this sounds familiar, it can be helpful to evaluate how you’re coping with any holiday-related stressors, and where you might want to bring awareness, or make changes. The best part about holiday-related challenges is that we know when they’re coming, creating a period of preparation that we can’t always expect from other life stressors.

Here are a few techniques and tools to reflect on, that might be helpful during this difficult and unpredictable holiday season:

  1. Whether this is new or longstanding, check in and acknowledge what’s going on for you. It’s also important to understand that these responses are extremely common. By openly acknowledging what this brings up for you, you can gain more insight and identify where this support might be needed. Record or write this down wherever you journal or take notes—it will make your experience more real, and you’ll have more opportunity for growth through insight.
  2. Prioritize your safety and take control over what you can, while accepting what you cannot control. We are still living with uncertainty related to the pandemic. So, educate yourself with what the risks are and how you can still engage in what you have access to—both in person or virtually. Accept what you can or choose not to do.
  3. Understand your needs and create boundaries that support these needs. This might be staying at events for only a certain period of time, or reducing responsibilities that have overwhelmed you in the past. Once set, take an assertive approach and make it clear for yourself and anyone who might need to be aware of these boundaries.
  4. Address whether the idea of keeping yourself safe is necessary, or whether it’s enabling avoidance. Sometimes, we might need to push ourselves into uncomfortable spaces to utilize new skills, while other situations certainly require distance to maintain our safety. Enlisting a friend or professional you trust might be helpful if you’re not sure. Saying “no” or asking for adjustments may also address what makes you feel uncomfortable. Remember: you decide what you’re willing to tolerate, so own that, and also know that it’s ok to change your mind.
  5. Don’t overextend yourself and practice saying “no.” Are you trying to fit in too much? Is this something you typically do? If you don’t usually take this in stride and tend to push yourself into a flurry of responsibilities or events, understand how this might impact your wellbeing, and others  around you. This could be the difference between just “showing up” vs being more engaged, and really enjoying the time you choose to spend.
  6. Review and practice productive ways to respond to any anticipated interpersonal conflict. Make it a goal to use new skills if the opportunity arises, and if preferred, practice with a trusted friend or professional.
  7. Practice mindfulness. If difficult memories or triggers are part of the holiday experience for you, address how they are holding space and where they are taking space from other memories, including making new ones. How can you acknowledge these memories and move on to the present? Engage thoughtfully with others and practice mindfulness when you find your mind wandering to an unavoidable trigger.
  8. Learn to identify any trigger patterns so you can develop an action plan. Can you directly remove any of these triggers or ask this of others, reasonably? If not, find trusted support at your events and have a structured plan for entry and exit. Always identify a space you can go to take a break. Overall, you want to move power away from the trigger, and give that space to healthier interactions and habits during the holidays.
  9. Show gratitude toward the holiday experiences you appreciate, even and especially acknowledging if it’s been learning how to cope with the holidays more productively.
  10. Finally, keep a toolkit nearby— like a list of coping skills that work for you. Include a few less familiar options in case those don’t do the trick. Refer to an app like nobu to give you access to in the moment breathwork, meditation or coping skill practice.

If you find that these challenges are causing significant impairment in your ability to function, you may need to reach out for additional support from a therapist, coach or trusted friend.

When we make plans and take control over a situation we know to be a challenge, it’s less likely to take control over us.

Happy Holidays!

-Nobu Wellness Team

nicole laneve

Edited by – Nicole LaNeve

Nicole leads a team of passionate, experienced writers, editors and other contributors to create and share accurate, trustworthy information about drug and alcohol addiction, treatment and recovery for The Recovery Village and all Advanced Recovery Systems sites… Read more.

dr angela phillips

Written by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.