Health Wise: Handling Holiday Hurdles


It’s finally here! The stretch of time from November to January where we are spoiled with celebration and chilly but not unbearably cold weather, yummy snacks and drinks, and beautiful changing seasons. Leaves falling, first snow, pretty decorations. The buzz of the holidays is everywhere.

However, the holidays aren’t always positive for everyone. There are many factors that can impact enjoyment: missing lost loved ones, struggling with finances, and having a hard time feeling cheerful when cheerfulness seems to be insisted upon! If you’re feeling any of these things, you’re not alone.

Over the years, we’ve seen these holiday stressors in our clients’ lives and experienced them firsthand as well. We’ve compiled some ideas for managing these tough situations.

First, let’s talk about general holiday stress. As we try to plan parties, navigate school breaks, debate what days to take off work or what family to see, and worry over gifts, the stress can feel endless. Pre-existing anxiety can be exacerbated. This is a great time to gift yourself self-care, take time off whenever possible, lean on social support, and explore therapy and other mental health supports. Art, food, and music abound during this time of year, so indulge in those mindful activities!

Second, let’s talk about grief and loss as it pertains to the holidays. Those who have lost loved ones know the feeling of someone missing at the holiday table. Losing someone around the holidays or remembering anniversaries, birthdays, or other special memories can sometimes take away from our ability to stay present in the current moment. Support groups are a great resource, especially this time of year, and can be found locally, created by individuals themselves through platforms like Facebook and Meetup, and virtual groups exist as well! Therapy is also extremely useful. Remember to focus on the loved ones you do have around you, be honest with them about how you feel, and take care of yourself, as your loved one who passed would want that for you.

Third, family conflicts are often highlighted by the holidays. Whether it comes from pre-existing conflicts, divorce or separations, seeing extended family with whom we have differing views, or just siblings being cooped up together rather than having space at school, family stress can be very challenging to navigate. Explore mindful, device-free activities to connect on deeper levels. Try board games or party games to have healthy outlets for frustration in the form of friendly competition. Be honest when you need space, and model to children that taking space is okay when social situations are overwhelming. Most importantly, practice gratitude. Try writing a letter or a card to loved ones highlighting what you’re grateful for, especially in the Thanksgiving season. Look for positives even in tricky relationships.

Fourth, financial stressors can put a huge damper on the holidays. Gifts, expensive events, and time off work can cause a strain on the bank account. If finances are tight, lean into things like handmade gifts and fun and free or low-cost experiences such as driving through neighborhoods to see decorations or going to local light shows. It can be helpful to talk to family members and friends about gift price limits, or going entirely gift-free if necessary, and focusing on spending time together. We could all benefit from focusing less on material things, and more on being together. While it’s hard when kids are asking for high price items, “vintage” or secondhand toys and activities bring plenty of joy and make great gifts too, while costing less! Don’t try to pretend everything is fine. Financial strain is difficult and you’re not alone.

Finally, having depression or difficulty feeling cheerful during the holidays can feel very isolating and difficult. It’s okay to feel down, do some extra therapy sessions, or take some space during the holidays. Social events can be exhausting, cold weather can make us prone to both low mood and illness, and trying to plan everything out for the holidays can be very draining. Exhaustion can mimic, trigger, or exacerbate depression, as can illness. Be honest with yourself and others if you’re not feeling cheerful, and get the help and support you need. However, remember that social support is crucial for mental health, so try to balance healthy alone time with social engagement, rather than isolating excessively. Say yes to some events, but no to others, as your energy demands. Balance is key.

We hope you experience this holiday season with joy, and that some of the stressors you may feel were addressed in this blog! We at Still Waters Counseling are here to help.

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