Protect Your Mental Health at the Holidays
If your holiday spirit is on strike, listen to this expert advice on staying centered and recognizing when you need more support.
It may be the most wonderful time of the year for many, but for others December can be more mentally challenging than holiday cheer-filled. If you find yourself struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression during the holiday season, know that you are not alone.
We asked Marius Commodore, MD, a psychiatrist and director of mental health at Nurx and Thirty Madison, for his expert insights on how you can protect your mental health right now.
Why can the holidays be hard on mental health?
There are a number of different reasons the holidays can be a hard time for people with anxiety or depression, and for others as well. This time of year there’s an expectation of big gatherings with family or groups of friends, but what if you don’t have that kind of family or friend group, or are geographically separated from your loved ones?
Nurx offers prescription treatment for anxiety and depression for as little as $0 in copays or $25 per month without insurance.
On the other hand, if your holiday season is filled with big gatherings that can be challenging in other ways. If your family isn’t supportive of you or your choices those gatherings may feel performative rather than joyful. With divorces and blended families, the logistics of moving between houses and family groups and trying to service everybody’s expectations can be stressful. For people who host others at the holidays, the social and performance aspect of that can cause or worsen anxiety.
Finally, unfortunately for some people the holidays are associated with bad things, like losing a loved one who passed away around the holidays, or memories of a lost loved one who you wish was still at the holiday table.
Anybody might find these aspects of the holidays to be challenging to some degree but it’s likely to be worse for somebody who already copes with depression or anxiety.
What’s your advice for guarding mental health during the holidays?
There are absolutely things you can and should do to prevent stress and help yourself enjoy the holidays:
- You have to be honest with yourself about how much you can handle. Can you tolerate three events in a week? Two destinations for your holiday travel? Then don’t do more than that. Have a plan from the beginning. Talk to your family about what you would like and what their expectations are, and address it all upfront.
- Take time for yourself. Even at a gathering or when you’re staying with family or they’re with you, you can sit outside or in a quiet room for 20 minutes to center yourself.
- Stick to some of the routines that give you peace. If you’re a runner, keep running. If you go to religious services, keep doing that. If you volunteer regularly or see a certain group of friends for dinner, stick with that routine, even if family is staying with you. Keep to the routines that keep you centered.
- Unplug from work. I know this can be difficult, especially if you work remotely and the division between home time and work time is blurry, but it’s important for your mental health to have some days when you’re truly unplugged.
- Keep moving. As the days get shorter, darker and grayer, it’s normal to feel less motivated or energetic. It’s certainly okay and even healthy to relax and do nothing sometimes, but if you know that the short days get you down you can anticipate that and make a plan to get out and take a walk during daylight to feel better.
If the holidays are a hard time for you, speak to a therapist. Surprisingly around this time of year there tend to be more appointments available because of cancellations and people traveling. Don’t assume you won’t be able to find somebody to talk to.
Of course if you are already seeing a therapist or other mental health professional, talk to them and form a game plan for how you’ll handle holiday stresses. They say that “no plan survives contact with the enemy” but it’s still better to have a plan. Plan how you will deal with your difficult brother, so when you see him you have an idea about how you will smooth things over.
If somebody is struggling at the holidays, how can they tell whether their symptoms are normal or temporary, or if they should seek treatment?
At the holidays or any time of year, you should pay attention if something that used to give you joy no longer interests you or now only creates anxiety. If you struggle to make yourself do things that you used to do routinely, that may be a sign that you are slipping into depression.
Yes, the holidays can be stressful for anyone, but two weeks after the holidays you should start to feel like your normal self. Two or three weeks into January, you should feel like you again, but if the holidays are over and you’re unable to motivate, unable to find energy, unable to approach things with excitement and joy, those may be signs to seek help. If you realize that it’s not just the holidays, and those symptoms are lingering, you need to do something about it.
If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, you can request an online evaluation and prescription treatment from the Nurx medical team any time — no appointment required.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.