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5 Things To Do When the Holidays Aren't Exactly Uplifting

By Danielle Fritze, MHA Senior Director of Public Education & Visual Communications

For many people, the holidays conjure up a Norman Rockwell-esque mental picture of people gathered to enjoy food, friends, and family, accompanied by feelings of love, warmth, and excitement.

But for others, the holidays can cause them to feel anxious or depressed despite all the decorations and festivities.

There may be pressure to impress friends and relatives with a spotless house or the perfect gift. The need to travel and buy gifts can strain an already tight budget. The crowds in parking lots, shopping centers, and airports are enough to send anyone into a state of heightened anxiety.

Obligations to attend multiple functions or visit everyone can be overwhelming. Maybe family time is tainted by unwanted conversations or a toxic relative. Perhaps the holidays remind you of friends or family members who are no longer around to celebrate.

And last but not least, some people don’t have anyone to spend the holidays with.

Here are five things you can do if you find yourself stressed or depressed this holiday season.

1. Say “No” if you feel overwhelmed.

There are only so many functions you can attend (or host), especially if you are busy with your day-to-day obligations and have limited time off. Trying to be too many places or get your house looking pristine for company can make get-togethers that are supposed to be enjoyable end up overwhelming.

If trying to be everything to everyone is sucking the joy out of the holidays, don’t be afraid to RSVP “no” to a few invitations or opt not to throw your annual party. This gives you the opportunity to reach out and suggest spending one-on-one time with friends or family in the new year when calendars are a bit more open and interactions can be more intimate and meaningful.

Alternatively, if you have social anxiety, you may send your mental health into a tailspin by pushing yourself too hard to participate in events or go to crowded places that trigger your symptoms. If stores swamped with too many shoppers are your nightmare, rely on trusted websites for online gift shopping. You can increase the impact of your gift giving by selecting a charity on Amazon Smile – a portion of what you spend will be donated to your designated charity.

2. Be kind to your wallet.

If finances are a source of anxiety, decline gift exchanges in favor of low-cost activities that you can share with loved ones. Offer to have someone over for a home-cooked meal, or plan a coffee date. It’s also not unreasonable to set spending limits or make homemade gifts if you can’t avoid a gift exchange.

Travel costs can be prohibitive; if appropriate request that your family or friends help cover the cost of your travel for the holidays instead of giving gifts. Use technology to get face-time when you can’t be somewhere in person. Skype and Google Hangouts are two free ways to make video calls with one or more people. Facetime is also an option for iPhone users.

3. Know when to end unwanted conversations.

Many families have that one toxic member (or maybe there are a few of them) who can turn a seemingly fine conversation into a family feud.

When you see things start to take a turn for the worse, DO NOT POKE THE BEAR.

There is no shame in removing yourself from the situation—leave the room or step outside until cooler heads prevail.

If your dread is more centered around being grilled by friends and family about things like your relationship status, weight gain, or a tough life event you’ve faced recently, you have a few options.

It may help to rehearse any replies to anticipated questions in advance of gatherings, so you don’t find yourself struggling to figure out what to say. You can change the subject of the conversation if you don’t feel like having a particular discussion, but try not to do so in a provocative or defensive way.

For example, don’t respond to, “How are you doing since the breakup?” with “How are you doing since you got passed over for that promotion at work?”

Lastly, you can simply inform someone that the topic they are bringing up is a sensitive one that you would rather not discuss.

4. Honor those who have passed on.

Remember that it is okay to be sad. There is no way to replace the presence of a loved one who has passed away, but one way of coping is to honor their memory rather than mourn their absence.

Some ideas include:

  • Donating time or money (if able) in the name of your loved-one to a cause that was near and dear to them;
  • Setting a place at the table for them;
  • Looking at old pictures or videos with other friends and family to remember the good times; or
  • Stepping in to carry on a tradition that the departed used to take the lead on.

If continuing old traditions is too painful, opt to create new ones that you think your loved one would have enjoyed.

5. Don’t be alone if you don’t want to.

If you prefer to spend the holidays by relaxing in solitude or engaging in self-reflection, there is nothing wrong with that. However, if you find yourself feeling lonely and without friends or family to spend time with, there are other people out there who are also looking for or open to having company:

  • Talk to co-workers and neighbors to let them know you’ll be alone and would like to get together.
  • Find a volunteer opportunity—it’s a great way to meet new people who also want to give their time to good causes, and to connect with people (or animals) who are in need during the holidays.
  • Look online for others who are looking for people to hang out with—Searching for events in your area on social media can help you find people who share your interests.

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, healthy, and fulfilling holiday season.


If you find yourself in crisis, call 1-800-273-8255 or text “MHA” to 741-741 24 hours a day/7 days a week to connect with a trained Crisis Counselor.

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