The MHS Journals

Our blog archive of insights and intel


Coping With Mental Health During the Holidays

Nov 25, 2020

When the Holidays Aren’t Merry

For many people, the holiday season is a happy time to reunite with family and celebrate one year’s ending and the beginning of a new one. However, this time of year may not be full of good cheer for many. If you are experiencing grief, the loss of a relationship, loneliness, illness, or if you don’t have a family to celebrate with, these months may be something you dread. Even if you have plenty to celebrate and loved ones to celebrate with, you may still feel overcome by the busy schedules, shopping lists, and the world’s daily news. If you or someone close to you have a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, you may find those difficulties magnified during the holidays.

Ways to Cope With Mental Illness During the Holidays

Self-care and self-love become critically important during the holiday season for those living with a mental illness. Here are a few coping skills to help when you start to feel overwhelmed:

  • Try to stick to your everyday routines, even when faced with additional demands on your time. Go to bed at a consistent time, eat balanced meals, take medications, and keep appointments with your health care professionals on the same schedule you usually follow.
  • Take care of your body with exercise, meditation, prayer, or other activities that bring you peace.
  • As much as possible, avoid people who may say hurtful things out of ignorance or meanness. Remember that you are not obligated to expose your mind to these people, and you have the right to choose. If you can’t avoid toxic people, prepare yourself mentally in advance with positive self-talk and encouragement.
  • Feel free to take a break by stepping away to find some peace.
  • Do something to help others during the holidays. Volunteer to wrap gifts, serve at a food bank, shovel your neighbor’s walkway, or donate to a toy drive. Serving others is good for the community, but it also helps you keep your problems in the right perspective.
  • If the holidays hold sad memories for you, try to stay focused on the present. If you find your mind drifting back to difficult seasons in past years, redirect to something in the present that makes you happy.


How to Help a Loved One With Mental Illness During the Holidays

If someone you love struggles to maintain their mental health during the holiday season, you may feel helpless. You may not know what to say out of fear of inadvertently offending or hurting them. You may feel inadequate in your level of depression awareness. It may help you think of how you would treat a loved one dealing with a physical illness, avoiding things that would aggravate the condition or exclude them from participation. Here are some ways that friends and family may be able to make these months more bearable:

  • Understand that people dealing with a mental illness may not want to participate in all the holiday celebrations. They may need to be selective in the ones they attend. However, it’s essential to let them know that they are welcome to join in at whatever level is comfortable.
  • Schedule activities as far in advance as possible so that your loved one can prepare, mentally, physically, and emotionally, for the events they decide to participate in. For many people dealing with mental illness this time of year, having something to look forward to lessens the stress.
  • If your gathering will include people less familiar with your loved one’s challenges, educate those people to the extent that you can, without violating your loved one’s confidence and privacy. Doing so puts everyone more at ease and helps prevent awkward moments. Education also helps reduce the stigma still associated with mental health diagnoses.
  • If travel is a source of stress for your loved one, avoid planning engagements that require long trips. Choosing a central location that is closer shows your loved one that you value their attendance and want them to be part of the celebration.
  • If your loved one has a problem with substance abuse, don’t make alcohol or drugs part of the celebration, and ask other attendees not to bring those things to the gathering.
  • Be flexible. If things don’t run on a schedule or don’t go as planned, remember that perfect holidays only exist on television. Focus on the positive and remember that the holidays are about time spent together, not picture-perfect postcard social media posts. Look for the humor and the memory-making potential when something doesn’t go according to the plan you set forth.


How Faith Communities Can Help Someone Dealing With Mental Illness Through the Holidays

Many people, though certainly not all, associate the holiday season with their religious beliefs. The faith community can be a comfort source to believers, especially those dealing with depression and anxiety through the holidays. Clergy and congregations can help to create a welcoming community by doing some simple things.

  • Encourage inclusion. Although gathering sizes may be limited this holiday season, extend warm wishes through simple gestures such as a conversation after the service or sharing a holiday card.
  • Members of the clergy can bring mental illness to their sermons and other parts of the worship experience.
  • Faith-based organizations can work with mental health providers to identify people in the community who would like to attend a holiday service in that faith. Congregation members can help with transportation to and from service.
  • Sending a small gift to those in residential and inpatient mental health treatment facilities tells those patients that the faith community and the Creator have not forgotten them.


Where Can I Find More Help

No matter how hard you try, the holidays can be incredibly difficult for those struggling with mental illness. Whether you are the one having a difficult time or you love someone experiencing challenges with holiday coping, you can take some concrete steps to not only survive but thrive at this particular time of year. If you find that you need professional help, reach out to us at MHS. We offer adolescents and adults services, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and more specialized care options. Contact us to schedule an assessment today to get started on a healthier holiday season. You can always reach out by phone by calling (952) 835-2002.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/ FTiare,