The American Psychological Association has found that over 38% of us experience increased levels of stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse during the holiday season. Another study showed that people living with mental health disorders felt their symptoms and conditions worsened around this time of the year.
For those already feeling isolated, lonely or sad, social media can also be a major contributor to the holiday blues. During this time of the year, our feeds are full of photos from fun-filled holiday activities and influencers sharing gifts and lifestyles that are oftentimes unobtainable. Thanks to the upward comparisons made when we measure ourselves against those we believe are superior to us, time spent scrolling through Facebook, Instagram and TikTok can easily stir up feelings of envy, shame and loss. Not surprisingly, such comparisons erode self-esteem and emotional well-being.
There are ways to guard and bolster your mental health during the holiday season. Here are some suggestions:
People, places and things can remind us of a past trauma or an upsetting event, like the loss of a loved one. Knowing your holiday triggers and putting plans in place to reduce stress can help curb emotional reactivity. An example of a plan might be engaging in self-soothing practices, such as taking warm baths, going for walks or watching silly TV shows.
In a gentle and loving inner voice, tell yourself it’s OK if you’re not feeling particularly merry or joyous this holiday season. This might seem counterintuitive, but denying negative feelings or berating yourself will make you feel worse, not better.
For many of us, this is easier said than done. But limiting the self-sabotaging “compare and despair” cycle is nothing less than an act of self-love.
Keep in mind that it takes time to sort out complicated emotions and understand the full circumstances surrounding them. Remind yourself that you’re not alone in feeling the way you do and take time to slow down your body and mind, which will in turn help bring stress levels down. One way to achieve this is by making deep breathing exercises a daily practice.
You’re more likely to be critical of yourself when you feel down or ashamed. Treat yourself as you would a good friend.
Make plans with trusted friends and family members or stay connected through digital platforms like texting, phone calls and video chats.
Sometimes your own efforts to improve holiday-related stress aren’t as effective as you had hoped. Give yourself permission to ask for help and speak to a professional about the feelings you’re experiencing.