This article was originally published in Spanish and has been translated and slightly edited for clarity.
Despite the Christmas lights, carols, and food, sometimes there’s someone who doesn’t feel like participating much, singing, receiving or giving gifts. Maybe you are that person, who’s been feeling different during the holidays.
Struggling with mental health during the holidays is normal, said Dorimar Diaz, a therapist from Colorful Resilience, a Massachusetts-based mental health services office.
Financial challenges, complicated relationships, perfectionism, grief, and more can be particularly challenging this season.
“Occasions like parties or Christmas can be a great moment to celebrate for some, but it can also bring negative thoughts,” said Diaz.
Diaz said holidays usually intensify anxiety and depression symptoms. Some of them include the feeling of fainting, heavy breathing, sadness, constant crying, or avoiding meeting other people.
According to a 2019 American Psychological Association survey, 45% of Americans would rather skip holidays to avoid stress.
Diaz said one of the best things to do to cope with these mental health challenges during holidays is to talk about them. But, she acknowledged this can be difficult in some households.
“I believe sometimes people fear talking about it because they think nobody else is feeling the same way,” she said.
So, what can people do from home?
Here are some tips Diaz shared to cope with anxiety, depression, stress, and other emotional struggles during the holiday season:
Take a moment to breathe
December can be a complicated and stressful month, whether that’s because of finances, relationships, or work.
Diaz reminds us to seek a moment, daily, to take a break and breathe. She recommends what she calls oceanic breathing: “notice how the air moves through your body and feel how it slowly goes through the mouth … Sounds like the ocean!”
Diaz says that can help you to be more present every day and make it through any December and Christmas-related activities you might be undertaking, she explains.
Write down what you’re thankful for
Diaz said it’s important to constantly remind ourselves why and what we are grateful for in order to reorient constant negative thoughts. This is a way to cope with sadness and reminds us there are reasons to live, like health, family, a job, a house, and more.
Think about it, write about it, or talk about it, she said.
Awaken your five senses
A way to be thankful and more present is to awaken the five senses, Diaz said. When someone is going through an anxiety episode, she said, it is hard to focus on details or what is around, so waking the five senses helps to get relaxed and more focused on the body.
Diaz explains: “To calm your body and be more present, name five things that you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one flavor you can sense.”
Discover your relaxation technique
Each person has a way to relax and find peace, Diaz said. She personally writes daily, at least for 20 minutes, to relax her mind. If there’s something you know will help calm you down, Diaz says to take time to do that.
Embrace any type of feeling
Diaz said that any feeling is normal during holidays, and we shouldn’t feel ashamed of that. We are not the only ones feeling that way, so it’s important to acknowledge that feeling and embrace it.
“I have had so many clients, and haven’t found one person that feels completely fine during Christmas time,” she said.
Talk with someone you can trust or seek professional help
“Talk with your family, talk about what you are going through, and don’t be afraid to explain your feelings,” Diaz advises. Plus, if we witness a person, relative, friend, couple, or neighbor going through a tough moment, we can help them.
Diaz says to reach out and talk, but to wait for a good moment to do it. There are certain limits, and there may be a chance the person doesn’t feel comfortable talking about everything. For example, a family dinner is not a good time to ask someone what is going on.
If the case is severe and talking with family is difficult for a person or yourself, Diaz advises seeking professional help either before, during, or after the holidays.
Contact any member of Colorful Resilience for support or call 988.
Some mental health resources and contact info:
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Also, visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you.
National Mental Health Association Help Line; 1-800-969-6642
Al-Anon/Alateen Family Group Headquarters; 1-800-344-2666; provides information about Al-Anon/Alateen and referrals for local meetings.
Cancer Information Service; 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
National Institute on Aging; 1-800- 222-2225; a specialist is available to respond to queries in Spanish.
National Women’s Health Information Center; 1-800-994-WOMAN (1-800-994-9662). Trained English- and Spanish-speaking information and referral specialists.