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Two individuals smiling while discussing mental health during holiday season

Maintaining Your Mental Health During the Holidays

Brannon Patrick

November 10, 2023


  • The holidays can bring about stress from family dynamics, financial pressures, unrealistic expectations, overcommitment, and experiences of grief or loss. It’s crucial to recognize and manage these stressors to maintain mental health.
  • Practical strategies to manage holiday stress include setting boundaries, practicing self-care, seeking support, staying organized, and focusing on what truly matters. These actions can help maintain balance and well-being.
  • Engaging in self-care activities, such as physical activity, adequate rest, and mindfulness practices, is essential. Additionally, setting realistic expectations for the holidays and focusing on positive aspects can lead to a more enjoyable season.

The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of joy, celebration, and gathering with loved ones—and for many people, that’s exactly what it is! However, for many individuals, it can also bring unique stressors and challenges that impact mental health.

The pressure to create perfect holiday experiences, combined with the demands of social engagements, financial strains, and family dynamics, can contribute to feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and depression. Shorter daylight hours and colder temperatures can also contribute to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial for maintaining mental well-being during the holidays. Below, our team at Therapy Utah helps you understand how to assess and improve your mental health during this unique time of year.

Concerned woman sitting in home during holiday season and experiencing mental health stress

Understanding Holiday Stress

The holiday season can bring a myriad of stressors that impact mental health. Some common challenges include:

  • Family Dynamics: Interactions with family members can be a significant source of stress, especially if there are unresolved conflicts or differing expectations.
  • Financial Pressures: The cost of gifts, travel, and holiday celebrations can lead to financial strain and worry.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: The portrayal of the holidays in media and social networks can create unrealistic expectations for perfect celebrations, leading to disappointment and stress.
  • Overcommitment: The pressure to attend every social event or fulfill every holiday tradition can lead to a packed schedule and little time for rest.
  • Grief and Loss: For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one or are unable to be with family, the holidays can be a particularly challenging time.
Overcommitted woman at laptop during holiday season

Tips for Maintaining Mental Health

Implementing practical strategies can help manage stress and improve your well-being during the holidays. Here’s a checklist of things you can do to check in on your mental health when the holidays roll around:

Set Boundaries

  • Learn to say no to invitations or commitments that will contribute to stress.
  • Communicate your needs and limitations to family and friends.
  • Establish clear expectations with family members to prevent misunderstandings.
  • Prioritize your time and energy for activities that are most important to you.
  • Protect your personal space and time for self-reflection.

Practice Self-Care

  • Make time for activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  • Ensure adequate rest and prioritize sleep.
  • Engage in physical activity regularly to boost mood and reduce stress.
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation to stay grounded and calm.
  • Nourish your body with balanced meals and stay hydrated.

Seek Support

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, family, or a mental health professional if feeling overwhelmed.
  • Consider joining a support group or community organization.
  • Share your feelings and concerns with trusted individuals.
  • Seek professional help if you are struggling to cope on your own.
  • Remember that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • If this is a “first” holiday, consider a new tradition. First time with or without a loved one, first time as a new family, first time away or near loved ones, etc….

Stay Organized

  • Plan ahead for holiday events and shopping to avoid last-minute stress.
  • Create a budget for holiday expenses and stick to it.
  • Make lists and break tasks into smaller, manageable parts.
  • Delegate responsibilities and share tasks with family members or friends.
  • Set aside time each day to organize and plan for upcoming events.

Focus on What Matters

  • Prioritize spending time with loved ones over creating the perfect holiday experience.
  • Practice gratitude and focus on the positive aspects of the holiday season.
  • Let go of the need for perfection and embrace imperfections.
  • Focus on creating meaningful memories rather than material possessions.
  • Remember the true meaning of the holiday season and reflect on your values.
  • Have a time-out from electronics and a time-in for personal connection.  

The Importance of Self-Care

Self-care is a critical component of maintaining mental health, especially during the holidays. Engaging in physical activity, ensuring adequate rest, and practicing mindfulness can all contribute to a sense of well-being.

Getting outside can also help—even in the wintertime! Taking advantage of Utah’s beautiful natural surroundings for outdoor activities like hiking or skiing can be a great way to reduce stress and improve mood. Additionally, incorporating relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety.

Woman knitting scarf during holiday season to practice self care for mental health

Managing Expectations

Setting realistic expectations for the holiday season is crucial for maintaining mental health. It’s important to accept that not everything will go as planned and that it’s okay if celebrations aren’t perfect.

Focusing on the aspects of the holidays that bring joy, rather than dwelling on what could be better, can lead to a more positive experience. Additionally, staying mindful of the tendency to compare holiday experiences with others can help reduce feelings of inadequacy or disappointment.

Smiling couple in front of Christmas tree during holiday season after seeking mental health support

Find the Support You Need this Holiday Season

The holidays are a time for celebration, but it can also bring unique challenges that impact mental health. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is crucial for maintaining well-being during this time.

At Therapy Utah, we encourage individuals to prioritize their mental health, implement practical strategies for managing stress, and seek professional support if needed. Remember, it’s okay to set boundaries, practice self-care, and manage expectations for a healthier and happier holiday season.

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