Managing mental health during holiday season

By Liz Thompson, CNP, PMHNP-BC

Holidays are usually a special time when families and friends get together to celebrate and reconnect. Unfortunately, not everyone feels cheerful or happy during this time. Increased depression during the holidays is a real phenomenon.

While research data is limited, there is some evidence about the causes of “holiday blues”. A survey done by the American Psychological Association found while most people reported feelings of happiness and high spirits, they often also felt fatigue, stress, irritability, and sadness. People surveyed said their stress levels increased during the holiday season, primarily due to lack of time and money, the pressure of gift giving, and family get togethers. For some individuals, it is related to the first holiday season after losing a loved one, loneliness, disappointment when not able to see family and friends, or worry about safety with large gatherings.

What can you do to alleviate depression and anxiety?

  • Focus on self-care. Take care of yourself. Rest, find time to relax, and be mindful of your stressors. When you take care of yourself, you will be able to better help others.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means being intentionally more aware and awake to each moment and being fully engaged in what is happening in one’s surroundings. Mindfulness skills help people balance their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The focus of these skills is to learn to be in control of your mind instead of your mind having control of you. Think of the phrase “lost in my thoughts”. Look up mindfulness on the internet; there are lots of tools. You can also get a workbook on mindfulness. It does take practice and is worth the time and effort.

An example of mindful breathing includes:

    • With each movement of the breath, there is a physical sensation, and that sensation is always here. It’s a way to adjust and come back to what we are meant to be doing in the next moment. You can also consider – what would be the most valuable thing we can do for ourselves or for someone else.
    • Take the next seven breaths with that perspective.
    • Start wherever you are—you can be sitting or standing.
    • Breathe in one, breathe out one. Continue with this rhythm for seven breaths. This is something you can come back to after a crisis, or before going into a challenging moment—it’s a way to ground yourself and find a way to settle down.
  • Eat healthy foods, avoid junk food. Junk food can give one the initial lift but will eventually make you feel worse. Healthy foods such as lean meats, vegetables and fruits give us fuel for our bodies and give us energy. Be sure to sleep at least 7-8 hours a night, turn off screens/TV at least 2 hours before bed to calm your mind. Exercise most days, a 30 minute walk every day can make all the difference in your mood and getting better sleep. Research has shown that a 30 minute walk every day in comparison to Zoloft 50 mg day will result in the same mood uplift!! We can improve our moods with exercise alone!!
  • Establish and maintain healthy boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself or your budget. It’s okay to say “no” to too many activities or responsibilities.
  • Find the activities that bring you joy – explore hobbies that can be knitting, reading, walking, yoga, talking with friends, helping at the local food bank. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – invite a friend out for coffee or to go for a walk outdoors.
  • Volunteer or give to others. Look in your local newspapers or on Facebook for opportunities. Consider bringing a meal to a friend during the holiday season.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Talk to family and friends if you’re struggling. Try texting, make a phone call, or video chat to connect with others. Make an appointment to talk to a mental health therapist about your struggles.

Crisis support is available
For anyone with suicidal thoughts or loved ones who want to reach out for assistance, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Simply call or text 988 or chat online at  The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

A mental health crisis doesn’t just mean thinking about ending your own life.  It’s any painful emotion and anytime you need support.  One option to reach out for help is to text the Crisis Text Line at 741741 with a keyword like “HOME,” “START” or “HELLO”.

The first two responses are automated. They tell you that you’re being connected with a crisis counselor, a trained volunteer, not a professional. The counselor can provide support, but not medical advice, and will help you sort through your feelings by asking questions, empathizing, and actively listening.

Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, providing access to free, 24/7 support.

Liz Thompson is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Riverwood Healthcare Center’s Behavioral Health clinic in Aitkin.