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How to prioritize your mental health during the holidays

Behind shot of a person with long hair in winter gear cheering in the snow

While the holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, for many it can also be a stressful time.

A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) revealed that 64% of people with mental illness report that the holidays worsen their conditions.

For many, high expectations, loneliness and added stress can lead to a phenomenon called the “holiday blues” during the season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.

The holiday blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. While the symptoms may be temporary, there is a chance that they may lead to long-term and severe anxiety and/or depression if not treated properly. Symptoms include tiredness, lack of energy or motivation, tension, frustration, feelings of loneliness or isolation and sadness.

“The holidays can be a riskier time of year for your mental health. Whether it's increased demands at work with vacations booked, expectations placed on yourself for family or hosting duties, sad memories of people who are no longer with us, or even the temptation to use less than healthy coping strategies during this time can all cause stress,” said Dr. Heather Fulton, a psychologist with the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addictions.

Below are some tips on prioritizing your mental health this holiday season.

Plan ahead

One of the root causes of stress during the holidays is a lack of planning. To avoid this added stress plan your schedule and make a to-do list ahead of time.

Planning and organizing your schedule in advance will help you better manage what needs to be done and help you tackle everything on your list in a timely and stress-free manner.

Self-care

Self-care is important any time of the year, but especially during the holidays.

Take the time to do the things you love and enjoy because your well-being and mental health are important.

Whenever things get too overwhelming, set aside time to prioritize and focus on yourself – even if just for a little bit. Schedule some time dedicated to your favourite hobbies and pastimes.

As an essential form of self-care, make sure you also set aside time to get enough hours of sleep, a healthy, balanced diet and some exercise.

Limit time on social media 

With more free time during the holidays, you might be inclined to spend your spare time on social media. However, this could be detrimental to your mental health.

Often, social media can be deceiving as people generally post only what they want others to see, which is their best face forward. Limiting the amount of time you spend on social media will make you feel happier and more at peace with yourself.

“Social media doesn’t always make people feel better, and there is growing concern it may make your mental health worse,” said Rachel Weir, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. “People’s lives aren’t as rosy as they portray on social media – this can be hard to realize when you are feeling low. So, limit your time on your devices, and spend time doing the things you do enjoy with the people you care about.”

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, refer to the Government of Canada’s website for more resources and services.

Published on Dec. 23, 2021.