The Holiday Season Can be Joyful, but Challenging

The holiday season is approaching fast. Religions, traditions, and culture may vary, but December is a time to gather with friends and family. We share meals, play board games, and spend quality time together. The winter months often bring joy, laughter, and delight. Many folks can’t wait for the holidays, but for other, they can be challenging.

This season can also be a time of increased anxiety, depression, and loneliness. And it’s important we talk about it.

It’s become well documented that during winter months, mental health challenges increase in frequency and magnitude. To adequately support one another and ourselves, we must acknowledge this reality and work together to ensure we have the support we need.

If you find yourself anxious, worried, or nervous, you may ask yourself, “is it normal to feel this way?”

The short answer is, “yes, absolutely”. There are many reasons people may feel heightened levels of anxiety and/or depression this time of year. Some of it comes from the natural world. Lower levels of sunlight diminish our bodily levels of Vitamin D. Others factors are social. Like the emotional complexities of seeing family members or friends. Regardless of the exact reason, it’s important to remember that it is utterly, completely normal and okay if you don’t find yourself matching the holiday spirit of everyone you encounter.

Below are some useful, practical reminders to provide self-care during this season.

1. Recognize that you don’t need to feel happy. Or further, you certainly don’t need to force yourself to be happy. The important, healthy path is to acknowledge how you feel. If you feel sad, then you feel sad. That’s okay. If you feel lonely, then you feel lonely. And that’s okay too. There is no should. There is only your true state of being. By accepting yourself and how you feel, you can diminish feelings of stress, anxiety, and unease.

2. Avoid numbing or avoiding feelings by using alcohol or other substances. Substances like alcohol, particularly when used irresponsibly, can worsen anxiety and depression.

3. If possible, surround yourself with people who bring you comfort. If you get invited to an outing, but don’t feel yourself, it may be better to honor that, and take care of your well-being. Seek out an activity that serves you. Try not to focus on concerns about others’ perception or expectations of you.

4. Look to celebrate traditions that feel personal to you. And if you’re interested in other experiences, work to create new ones with family, friends, or close community members.

And if you don’t encounter mental health challenges during the holidays, you may want to think if anyone around you may be struggling. Do what you can to reach out to family, close friends, and those in your neighborhood. You contacting someone who’s struggling could be the difference between them dreading the holidays and finding great gratitude during this time. Our community is strongest when we support one another. And that starts with us, our family and friends.

One final note: There is a significant difference between holiday stress, anxiety, and elevated depression, which typically go away when the holiday season ends, and more severe, long-term depression, which can interfere with activities of daily living. If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed, it’s best to consult with a medical professional.