How to Care for Your Mental Health in a More Difficult Holiday Season


  • Author Dr. Dawn Brown
  • Published December 23, 2021
  • Word count 1,402

There seems to be a perceptible change that takes over as soon as the last trick-or-treaters retreat into their homes. Christmas is such a strong cultural phenomenon that its imminent presence is impossible to ignore long before we’ve even made it through Thanksgiving. The Winter Holiday season quickly sweeps us all up with excitement and emotionally-charged traditions, but also with pressures, stress, and possible mental health complications.

For those that struggle with their mental health, the holidays can come with too many expectations and stressful situations. This time of year is seen as a joyful period, but it’s also understandable if this year, you don’t feel quite as cheerful. In a year when many are having more trouble with mental health, whether due to losing a loved one, experiencing financial setbacks, or having another COVID-related circumstance, the holidays may not feel quite the same.

Why the Holidays May Be Different This Year

It’s no surprise that a global pandemic can have some pretty lasting effects on our lives. We’ve all experienced some pretty significant changes over these past few years.

If family finances have taken a hit, it may not be possible to fund the holiday celebrations that you normally enjoy. If a crucial tradition is not going to be on the table, this can also make the holiday season feel lacking and disappointing.

Of course, the holidays most especially won’t feel the same if your mental health has been compromised. Depression or another mental health disorder can certainly make it more difficult to find holiday cheer.

What These Changes Can Mean for Your Mental Health During the Holiday Season

These past couple of years living with the coronavirus pandemic have taken their toll on mental health. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in America 2020 survey found that 78% of adults say the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life. As the survey acknowledges, COVID-19 made significant impacts to our lives that have contributed to the mental health crisis that had already been building.

Even before everything that 2020 brought, stress and mental health have been critical issues in need of addressing. And these are both made more difficult in the midst of the holiday season, with over 60% of respondents in a Healthline survey citing some stress during the holidays. If this year has been harder on you, this holiday season may be more difficult for your mental health.

Holidays Are Often a Harder Time for Those with Mental Health Issues

Of course, almost everyone can understand the stressors that holidays can provide, but stress isn't the only challenge posed by this time of year. For those with mental disorders such as major depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and adjustment disorder, holidays can be particularly hard.

Winter holidays come during a time of year that is colder and darker, the exact time of year that can trigger symptoms for those with SAD. The holidays themselves also ask you to repeat cherished traditions with those we love, which can be hard for those struggling with a death or other significant change. When grieving, traditions without your loved one can hurt. When adjusting to new circumstances, having to celebrate in new ways and reminiscing on the past can be painful as well.

Whatever you may be dealing with, it can be tough to face hard metal health problems while holidays are enjoyed around you.

Why You May Struggle in This Season of Festivities

Just because everyone else is delightfully singing along to the carols and thriving on the Christmas cheer does not mean that there’s anything wrong with you if you can’t get into the same festive spirit. Whether it’s because everything is so changed from the holidays you’re used to or because things are really more of the same, including an unchanged poor mental health situation, it’s understandable to feel less than jolly about the holidays.

Instead of worrying about doing the holidays right, the important thing is just to take care of yourself and your mental health throughout this season.

How You Can Look Out for Your Mental Health During the Holidays

You don’t have to lose sight of everything else just because the holidays have come around. While all the celebrations can be fun, they can also be overwhelming.

When putting the priority on your mental health, you may need to take a step back from the holiday festivities to ensure you’re looking out for yourself. This means implementing measures towards better mental health during the holidays, even if this is hard to do.

Don’t Expect Everything to Be the Same

Whether your life has sustained big changes or not, every year is different. From one year to the next, we may get new jobs or homes, expand our families or lose touch with loved ones, and generally grow and change. Throughout our lives, nothing ever stays exactly the same, not even the holidays, and we can’t expect them to.

Change can be hard to cope with. It can be upsetting to see so much of your life different than it was before, and if this is something you’re already struggling with, holidays may not be easy. It simply may be extra important for you to reorient your expectations for a changed holiday season.

Build Boundaries for Better Holiday Traditions

Of course, change can also be a positive thing to choose for yourself. You can choose to change your attitude around the holidays, rethink the traditions you usually engage in, and set out on a path of self-care with boundaries for the holiday season.

At any time of year, setting boundaries can be one of the most useful things to do for your mental health. It can be especially important during the stressful holiday season. If family is more of a source of drama than a solid support system, it’s okay to skip out on the trip. If the things that you’re struggling with are just too much to talk about with those you see over the holidays, it can help to make clear ahead of time what topics are off-limits.

And if you are having a hard time just getting up and brushing your teeth, you shouldn’t force yourself into holiday happiness. The tree may not go up this year, but not every holiday has to be picture-perfect.

Let Go of Perfection

Sometimes, our mental health simply requires us to drop the idea of “picture-perfect” completely. Even in the best of times, no holiday is ever “perfect,” despite what the social media of others may tell us. You cannot control everything, and trying to convince yourself that you can only harms your mental health.

Set any unrealistic expectations aside if you want anything truly good to come out of this season. When you aren’t chasing after perfection, you may actually find you enjoy this time much more.

Find Joy Where You Can

Even in a more difficult holiday season, there may be moments that allow for smiles. They may come when you least expect them to, so don’t give up on finding them, however down you may be.

A simple and almost overlooked holiday tradition may end up being just the one to spark the joy you’ve been missing. So, while it may be tough, it can also be worth it to make the effort into continuing some traditions or simply partaking in an activity you enjoy. The real magic of the holiday season is, after all, found within the memories we create.

Put Your Mental Health First, Whatever It Takes

Whether seasonal joy ends up getting to you or not, the most important thing is that you look after your mental health. Find your social support group and ensure you’re also taking care of your own self. Instead of staying up late with movie marathons and decorations, consider prioritizing sleep, for one thing. And instead of losing yourself to holiday stress, put self-care first with a stable routine.

If your mental health situation is just too much for you to handle on your own, it may be best to seek professional help. A mental health professional can support you through the holidays and beyond. Whatever mental health issues you may be struggling with, hold onto hope through the holiday season because help is available.

Child, Adolescent, Adult and Sports Psychiatrist, Dr. Dawn Kamilah Brown (, is the Founder and CEO of Mental Healthletics™ a concierge practice and serves as the company’s Sports Psychiatrist. Dr. Dawn is also the Founder and CEO of the ADHD Wellness Center ( and has two private practice locations in Texas, with a growing virtual presence.

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