The holidays can be a joyous time for many people, but they’re certainly not joyous for all of us. While it may be the most wonderful time of the year for some, it can be a time of stress, or even dread, for others. We commonly associate this season with splendid sentiments of happiness and love, and perhaps we do so to a fault. From Thanksgiving preparations until we ring in the New Year, many people wind up suffering from unpleasant feelings such as fatigue, tension, frustration, loneliness, sadness, and anger.

The “Holiday Blues,” a temporary experience of anxiety or depression, can surface for a variety of reasons — from unrealistic expectations and pressures to finances and commercialization. Hence the first step in handling the “Holiday Blues” is to reflect on what may be causing your distress. Is it stress? Nostalgia? The looming contact with people you deem toxic? Here are some common causes for the “Holiday Blues” and how you can maintain your mental health during this season.

Source: Pexels

“I feel pressured to spend”

Many people claim that commercialization causes us to lose sight of the reason for the season. Although our own reasons to celebrate may vary, we cannot deny the pervasive pressure to spend in seemingly every store. Further, the reminders to spend creep into our mailboxes, inboxes, and quickly into our homes.  The chatter at social gatherings, the temptation to buy happiness, and the intimidation to keep up with the Joneses don’t help either.

If this causes you distress, consider grounding yourself by reminding yourself of your values. Why are you celebrating this season? Whatever you conclude, odds are that gifts are not a top priority. Use your reason to guide you this season. If you are purchasing gifts, plan ahead, prioritize, and use a budget. If possible, can you show your love, adoration, and/or appreciation in another creative form? Finally, consider paying it forward. There are plenty of chances to volunteer your time this season, and throughout the year.

Contributing to a priceless charitable opportunity may help to lift your spirits.

“I just don’t want the drama.”

This may be a common sentiment for you throughout the year, but with an increase of gatherings towards the end of the year, the pressure to see others we are uncomfortable with may intensify. The reasons for conflict are vast, but here, let’s focus on self-empowerment.

First, try to be accepting of differences. This in no way means you need to change your opinions, condone the actions of others, or shrink into a domineering person’s shadow. However, the holidays may not be the time to begin a crusade, especially if it will enhance your distress. Next, choose to be mindful. Tune into your feelings; don’t ignore them. Holiday parties are often filled with temptation for negative coping (e.g., overeating, binge drinking), so knowing and noticing your triggers can help you from being impulsively reactive. Finally, seek positivity. You may find it easier to avoid conflict, gossip, and toxicity if you gravitate towards positive people.

“I don’t want to be probed about my personal life.”

Holiday gatherings can be a great time to reconnect and catch up with family and friends, but on the other hand, these gatherings may come with an expectation of sharing that not everyone is comfortable with. Expectations, social skills, and cultural variables may also complicate matters. When these influences combine, individuals find themselves uncomfortably silenced, submissive, or disengaged.

If you are worried about intrusive individuals, prepare yourself by proactively considering what it is that you are uncomfortable speaking about. This can help you shift topics to what you are comfortable discussing and allow you to still be engaged. Know your own boundaries, and consider what you will need to do to keep them in place. Perhaps you might elect to share your discomfort with a loved one who can distract from the interaction altogether by acting as a helpful hand at the event. When you’re in the conversation itself and someone inadvertently pushes you too far, you may find a direct and respectful statement to be helpful; however, some may prefer an indirect approach. A clear response may be empowering, but if that doesn’t feel good, simply honor your needs by asking to be excused.

“I feel helpless when I see my loved one.”

Although the “Holiday Blues” can be experienced by anyone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people living with mental illness experience the “Holiday Blues.” Seeing a loved one struggle can be a difficult experience. You may be torn in this process: On the one hand, you may want to help, yet on the other, you may want to be respectful of their autonomy. This is not an easy path to navigate. For suggestions on this journey consider reading “What To Do When A Loved One Needs Mental Health Help.”

“I miss my loved one.”

With the loss of a loved one, what was once a joyful occasion may become a painful reminder of their absence. The holidays can also ignite unattended grief. If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, embrace your process. Ignoring your feelings does not help you control them. Acknowledging your feelings allows you to honor your loved one. Avoiding your emotions may cause you to become isolated, and miss the opportunity to seek support. Building the courage to open up to someone else who may be hurting can actually be a collaboratively cathartic experience. Lastly, consider creating a new tradition to honor your loved one. A few ideas could be listening to their favorite song, watching their favorite movie, browsing through photos, or sharing your favorite memories.

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  • Shainna Ali

    Mental Health Therapist, Educator, & Advocate

    Integrated Counseling Solutions

    Shainna Ali is a mental health clinician, supervisor, educator, and advocate. Dr. Ali is passionate about destigmatizing mental health counseling and helping individuals worldwide recognize the importance of fostering mental wellness. Dr. Ali is a licensed mental health counselor in the state of Florida, a nationally-certified clinician, and an approved clinical supervisor. She is the owner and operator of Integrated Counseling Solutions, LLC, a strengths-based clinical mental health and consulting practice located in Downtown Orlando.  Dr. Shainna is the author of The Self-Love Workbook: A Life-Changing Guide to Boost Self-Esteem, Recognize Your Worth and Find Genuine Happiness and an active blog contributor for Psychology Today, the American Counseling Association, Thrive Global and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Dr. Shainna presently teaches counselor education courses and provides tailored educational workshops for the local counseling community. Dr. Shainna was received the 30 under 30 award by her alma mater, The University of Central Florida, was named an emerging leader by the Association for Counselor Education & Supervision and Association for Creativity in Counseling, and was awarded the Pete Fischer Humanitarian award for her efforts in mental health advocacy. When she's not working, she can be fostering her own mental health. She enjoys writing, journaling, dancing, traveling, practicing yoga, wrapping presents, loving her GSD, and spending time with her loved ones.