Winter and Holiday Season Mental Health Tips

The holiday and end-of-year season can be a difficult time for some. The sun sets earlier and the weather gets colder. But there are ways to help cope with feelings you or someone you know may be having at this time. Whether someone is experiencing grief, loneliness, discrimination, familial stressors, navigating boundaries, or something else, you are not alone. Below are a few tips from our Mental Health Program to help navigate the season.

How to navigate the holidays and your mental health:

1. Check in with yourself. Keep in mind that it’s normal to experience sadness over the holidays. The first step in addressing and nourishing your feelings is acknowledging them and giving yourself space to feel emotions.

2. Do what makes you comfortable. Setting boundaries is important to keep your mental health protected. You can attend gatherings for as long as you feel comfortable and avoid triggering gatherings if you see fit.

3. The holidays aren’t happy for everyone, give yourself time to rest and reset.

4. Set a budget. The holidays are frequently times of spending more than other months. This can be an additional layer of stress for those struggling financially. If you cannot afford to give gifts, consider discussing this with your loved ones and setting a plan that works best for you. Handmade gifts or cards can be an option.

5. Make a plan on how to navigate holiday gatherings before, during, or after attendance. Find things that fill your cup after emotionally depleting events.

6. If you are grieving a loved one it may be more difficult during the holiday season. Give yourself space for grief and lean on loved ones for support.

7. Get outside during the day. Even if it is for 5-10 minutes it can improve your mental health to breathe fresh air and get a change of scenery. If possible, go for a walk for 5 minutes to rest.

8. Connect with your community. Loneliness has impacts on your health. The holidays may heighten loneliness, especially when people have lost family or live far away from loved ones. Finding a supportive network through support groups, community centers, local meetings, and spiritual communities can help lessen feelings of loneliness and isolation if you are unable to spend the holidays with loved ones.

9. Self-care is especially important. Many people feel increased stress around the holiday season with increased responsibility, increased bills, and less daylight to do it all in. What you do to nourish yourself is important and taking time to care for yourself. Schedule time for yourself and activities that recharge your mind and body. This may include reading a good book, working out, spending time in nature, and practicing stress management skills, such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness.

10. Check-in with people you love. They may be feeling down about the holidays as well allowing for connection in an isolating time.

11. For people in recovery, the holiday season presents challenges that can trigger the use of alcohol and drugs. Having a plan for navigating social events and feelings of loneliness can reduce the risk of substance use. For family and friends, it is important to check in on those who may be struggling with substance use over the holidays.

12. Traditions may have changed around the holidays. Although the holidays may not be as they used to be, create your traditions and ways to celebrate alone or with the people you choose to spend time with. The family you choose can sometimes nourish you more than the family you are born into.

13. Make choices that align with your values. Make decisions that are based on your values rather than what you are feeling. Give yourself some time to consider your response when you feel overwhelmed. For instance, if a family member upsets you, take a breath and pause instead of responding out of emotion. You deserve to have your boundaries respected by your family and yourself.

14. Recognize any shifts in mood with the seasons. People with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) suffer from depression symptoms that are brought on by the shortened days of the season. Even though this type of depression tends gets better in the spring and summer, it’s always beneficial to see your doctor if you think you may be suffering from these symptoms. Light therapy and seeking support from a psychologist or therapist are effective forms of treatment.

15. Reach out for support. Seek support from trusted others in your support system. Help is also available by dialing or texting 988. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, help can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by dialing or texting 988 from a smartphone. You can learn more about the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline on their website at https://988lifeline.org/.

You are not alone. If you would like to get in touch with someone from CIDNY’s Mental Health Program, please email info@cidny.org or call 212-674-2300.

Please share these tips with anyone you think may find them helpful.