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Five Tips for Keeping Holiday Stress at Bay


Here are some practical ways to improve your mental health and even find joy this season.

Let’s face it: making the holidays the most wonderful time of the year can be really stressful.

Cooking, shopping, baking, decorating and hosting family members can place enormous demands on your mental health. And since 2020, the threat of catching or transmitting the latest variant of COVID-19 can make seasonal family gatherings even more anxiety-ridden.

We've always known that the holiday blues are a real thing — a time when loneliness and depression rise. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people with mental illness report that holidays make their conditions worse. But with some preparation and practical tips, you can learn to reduce your stress, cope with difficult emotions and discover joy this holiday season.

1. Identify your feelings

From job losses to dashed plans, we’ve all been through a lot in the last few years. If you’re feeling upset, that’s perfectly normal. It’s okay not to feel okay. Recognizing these feelings and articulating them – instead of pushing them down to pretend to be in the holiday spirit – can make things seem less overwhelming.

And you don’t need to sort through your emotions on your own. Reach out for help – to an old friend, a coach, a religious figure in your life, or a therapist, if need be. And don’t forget to provide that support for others. Simply asking how someone is holding up can go a long way towards boosting their spirits.

2. Plan ahead

From baking dozens of cookies to finding that perfect tree, it’s impossible to fit in all of your holiday activities at once. Trying to do so simply raises your stress level. Make a list of what needs to get done, then set aside time to make sure you can keep everything under control. And don’t forget to take a break for yourself, such as going for a walk or practicing deep-breathing exercises.

3. Know your limits

Everyone wants a perfect holiday, but it’s important to be realistic about your expectations. Take gift-giving, for example. If you can get something for everyone on your list, great. But if buying presents this year is too physically or financially draining, consider instead deciding as a family to make a group donation to a worthy charity. It not only simplifies your life, but it’s a positive bonding experience for your family and an altruistic one at that.

4. Keep up healthy habits

The holidays can be marked by overindulgence, but going overboard can make you feel guilty afterwards. Make sure you eat healthy meals (within reason), get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid recreational drugs or excessive use of alcohol.

5. Express gratitude

Even in uncertain times, we can all find something to be thankful for. It’s a good time to take stock of your life and reflect on what has brought you happiness, security and love. Seeing the proverbial glass half-full rather than half-empty can help improve your mood, and gratitude itself has been proven to improve your mental health.

Where to turn for help

If you’re still feeling depressed or hopeless during or after the holidays, you may need to talk to a qualified health care professional. Asking for help can be challenging, but you are not alone. Call Horizon Behavioral Health to help you navigate the support you need at 1-800-626-2212 (TTY 711), 24/7. If you are having an urgent mental health crisis, call 911 or visit an emergency room as soon as possible.

Are you a caregiver of a person with Alzheimer’s Disease or related memory disorder? The holidays can be particularly stressful. Care2Caregivers is a peer counseling helpline. Call 1 800-424-2494 to get connected.

Care2Caregivers is independent from and not affiliated with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Horizon Health News is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.