December 15, 2017

Dr. Lorrie Henderson

10 ways to stay mentally healthy and beat the holiday blues

Festive parties, family gatherings, gift shopping and time-honored recipes are what most people associate with the holiday season. However, for some, the winter is far from being the most wonderful time of the year. Coined the “holiday blues,” this condition should not be taken lightly.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, many people experience varying levels of anxiety or depression during the holiday season, especially those who already have a pre-existing mental health condition. Whether it’s the extra stresses and unrealistic expectations that accompany the season or the feelings of loneliness and sadness, the holiday blues can be hard to shake.

Referencing articles from both PsychCentral and from an article published by the Canadian Mental Health Association, here are some common tips to help combat holiday depression:

  1. Budget in advance – In a survey conducted this year by Harris Poll on behalf of SunTrust Banks, Inc., nearly seven out of 10 Americans said that the financial stress of the holidays is enough to make them wish they could skip exchanging gifts. We all tend to overextend ourselves during the holiday season. Stick to your budget and make goals for yourself, like maybe only spending cash and/or debit while holiday shopping or gifting homemade presents.
  2. Take people at face value – With the holidays comes an influx of family members and friends that you see but once a year, some of whom may only add to your seasonal stresses. Don’t have unrealistic expectations that they will change this upcoming holiday season, but instead find constructive ways to minimize their impact on your life. An easy way to do this is by surrounding yourself with those who make you happy.
  3. Let it go – Nobody said you had to get all of your holiday shopping done in one day. Don’t buy into the “have-to’s” this holiday season and instead make a list of things that you need to do and want to do. Day by day, check off two to three items that are very important to you. Furthermore, it’s perfectly okay to task others with sharing some of the holiday responsibilities.
  4. Get adequate sleep – It may be hard to ensure a good night’s rest with all of the festivities and gatherings happening during this season but a sincere effort must be made. According to the American Psychological Association, sleep allows our brains to recharge and when we deprive ourselves of adequate sleep, we do not receive the benefits of muscular repair and memory consolidation. This in turn affects our memory, judgement and mood.
  5. Overindulging is not your friend – During the winter months, there are countless opportunities to indulge in rich food and alcoholic beverages. Overindulging can lead to feelings of guilt or shame, deflating your self-esteem. The goal here is to limit the consumption rather than eliminating it entirely—everything in moderation.
  6. Keep active – This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip. When you plan your holiday schedule, allow yourself opportunities to be active. And while the average person may only gain about a pound during the holidays, this pound is one that most people never lose—and it adds up! In addition to this, exercise is just great for your mental health, plain and simple.
  7. Take up a hobby – Combat loneliness and isolation this winter by picking up a winter hobby or joining a group. This can even include volunteering with a local nonprofit—anything that keeps you busy and is rewarding in some ways. And there’s no better way to make new friends!
  8. Create new traditions – The holidays can be a reminder of the loss of a loved one. Prepare yourself by acknowledging that the holiday seasons won’t be the same. This can provide you with an opportunity to create new traditions as a way to keep your loved one’s memory alive.
  9. Ask for help – If you know that you typically have a tough time during the holidays, ask friends and family members to check in on your from time to time. Talking about your struggles tends to put them in perspective. It’s the bottling up of emotions that makes them feel overwhelming.
  10. Make a mental health crisis plan –If you are someone who experiences the holiday blues, have a plan set in place in case you have a mental health. This can include specifying someone to call when things become too much to handle or scheduling an appointment with a therapist. You know yourself and what’s best for you.

For those who already have a mental health condition, be sure to continue your therapy sessions. Don’t skip one just because things are busy. And if you’re taking prescription medications, beware of the side effects of mixing your medications and alcohol. And be sure to not stop taking it unless advised by a medical professional.

Most importantly, find some time to laugh and unwind this holiday season. There’s nothing quite like a good joke shared amongst close friends. Isn’t that what getting into the true holiday spirit is all about?

If you’d like more information about behavioral health and counseling services available to you this upcoming holiday season, please check out Jewish Family & Children’s Service at


Lorrie Henderson Ph.D., MBA, LCSW  is president and chief executive officer at Jewish Family & Children’s Service.