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Mental Health

Six Tips to Manage Holiday Stress

Author: Seema Sehgal, MD

A man holding his head reading a paper

The holidays are generally a time for friends, family and festivities, but for those living with anxiety or depression, it can be trying. Things like being out of a normal routine, having too many social commitments, or weight gain from overindulging on holiday treats can take their toll on your mental health.

The key to dealing with holiday triggers it to know how to identify them and develop coping strategies that’ll help you through. Here are a few ways to deal with holiday stress.

Acknowledge Your Feelings – Even amidst the holiday cheer, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed, lonely and sad – and that’s OK. You can’t force happiness, but you can give yourself permission to express your feelings in whatever way you need to.

Take Care of You ­– With busy schedules, big meals, and alcohol, it’s easy to abandon your healthy habits over the holidays. Weight gain, lack of sleep and less exercise can increase stress to the detriment of your mental health. While you may not be able to stick to your routine entirely, take the time to take care of yourself.

Set Realistic Expectations – There’s no rule that says the holidays have to be perfect or have to stay the same year after year. If keeping up traditions is causing you undue stress, then stop or find another family member to take it on. If it doesn’t bring you joy, then it isn’t worth your energy.

Make a Budget – Between presents and parties, it’s almost like the holidays are designed to drain your bank account. Don’t let financial strain turn into mental stress, make a budget and stick to it or set aside money in the months leading up to the holidays to alleviate some of that anxiety.

Learn to Say No – Just because you were invited to a dozen different holiday parties, doesn’t mean you have to go to each one. Trying to fit in shopping, hosting, and partying on top of your work, home and self-care obligations is a recipe for disaster. If something truly doesn’t fit into your schedule, don’t overextend yourself – just say, “No, thank you.”

Reach Out When You Need To – One way to combat the stress and isolation of the holidays is to reach out to your support system. Whether that’s spending time with friends and family, volunteering in your community, or drawing from your religion, there’s strength and healing in connection.

The holidays should be a time of peace and joy – not a source of mental strife. There are tons of great resources online for managing anxiety, practicing self-care, and dealing with grief around this time of year, but if you still find it difficult to cope with the stress of the holidays, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Things like irritability, exhaustion, insomnia, hopelessness and lingering or persistent sadness or anxiousness may be signs that it’s time to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Acknowledging your feelings, identifying stressors, and employing healthy coping mechanisms can help you make it through the holidays happier, healthier and more prepared to take on the new year.

To learn more about the psychiatric services available through Washington Hospital, visit

Posted December, 2018