The holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. But frantic holiday shopping, a hectic social schedule, (sometimes taxing) family obligations, and pressure to be cheerful 24/7 can create a recipe for stress, anxiety, and emotional burnout. For some people, especially those of us with depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), the season of love and light may also trigger feelings of sadness, loneliness, and despair. Fortunately, there are ways to cope.

Plan Ahead 

Even if you’re someone who thrives under pressure, now is not the time for procrastination. Waiting until the last minute to shop for gifts or cook and clean for a big party is a recipe for disaster. Making a plan and start early. You’ll have more time to enjoy the season without feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, and you may be able to save money too. 

Psychologists recommend using visualization as a part of goal-setting (and achieving), so consider scheduling your to-do list in a weekly calendar. Unlike a to-do list, scheduling allows you to see not only what you need to do, but when and (about) how much time you need to complete it. 

Set Realistic Expectations 

Great expectations often lead to great disappointment. Sorry to be a downer, but it’s true. Try to approach the season, and individual events, without expectation. Instead of being disappointed things didn’t work out as planned, you might find it easier to enjoy things for what they are. 

On a similar note, try to anticipate potential hurdles and how you might overcome them. This is another goal-setting trick that can work wonders when navigating a potentially stressful period. Things probably won’t be perfect, but you can still have a great time if you roll with the punches.


Don’t Try to Think Positive

This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. There’s nothing wrong with trying to be positive. Reframing negative thought patterns is an oft-used part of treatment for anxiety and depression. However, doing so is not easy. If it were, you wouldn’t be depressed or anxious in the first place. And take it from someone with decades of experience, trying to overcome depression with happy thoughts, only to feel like a worthless failure for being unable to do so, is a vicious cycle not easily broken. Instead, mental health experts recommend trying to think neutral, factual thoughts.

For example, try telling yourself, “I have gotten through times like this before, and I can do it again.”

Be Present

For many people, the dark cloud looming over their holiday season is partly made up of past traumas or painful memories. This is especially true for families who don’t get along or have lost a loved one. This year, more people than usual may also be troubled by isolation and a yearning to be closer to distant friends and family. While none of this is easy to grapple with, dwelling on the past or “should-haves” is not productive. Instead, acknowledge your emotions and try to find things to be grateful for and joyful about in the present.

This holiday season especially, you might need to make some adjustments to your usual traditions, like video calls instead of in-person gatherings and online shopping instead of shop-til-you-drop weekends at the mall. Focus on what you have to be thankful for despite the hardships you’ve endured.

Give Back to Others

Many of us feel pressure to make others happy around the holidays, which can take a toll on our mental health. Try to remember those closest to you most likely would not want you to sacrifice your wellbeing for their benefit. Take care of yourself first and set boundaries where necessary.
That being said, giving, even in small ways, can be beneficial to your community and your mood. The holidays are full of opportunities to volunteer or just offer a hand to those in need. Granted, COVID-19 may limit certain volunteer opportunities compared to years past. But that doesn’t mean you can’t give back. Many organizations need help now more than ever. You can use sites like Volunteer Match to find opportunities that match your skills, schedule, and resources.

Even if you can’t volunteer in-person, consider donating. You can even donate in a loved one’s name as a gift to them. You can also do more personal acts of kindness, such as delivering a holiday meal to an isolated neighbor’s doorstep or offering to shovel an elderly neighbor’s driveway.

Bottom Line

Pressure from friends, family, coworkers, and society to be happy and effervescent during the holidays comes from a good place but can be detrimental to our mental health. In the season of giving, remember you can only give your best to others if you take care of yourself first.

In addition to the above, this may be the ideal time to try supplementing your health regimen with practices like yoga or meditation and supplements like vitamin D and CBD to maintain a balanced mood and overall wellness. Research shows that even taking a brief daily walk can do wonders for your mood, especially if you can catch a few sun rays while you’re at it.

If you’ve tried the above and still experience worsening symptoms or have symptoms of anxiety or depression for longer than two weeks, consider talking to a doctor or mental health specialist.

If you need help finding resources, call the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (1-240-485-1001) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-6264).