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White Christmas or Blue Christmas? The Impact of the Holidays on Mental Health

Holiday season, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, isn't it? Except for a lot of people maybe it’s not. The holidays are a great time to get together with family and friends, eat lots of great food, decorate the house and buy gifts for loved ones. These great things, however, can amplify mental illnesses or create intense stress, making this time of year very difficult for many people. Herein are the top factors.


The holidays are a time all about family. For those who know someone who lost a loved one, the celebrations can remind them of that person, often sparking feelings of grief. This is especially true on the first holiday after the loss of a loved one. It is very important to be there for the people you know who are celebrating without somebody this year. This can be simply be offering companionship or helping them find ways to remember a loved one through celebrations, perhaps lighting a candle or doing an activity you know the person would have loved. Make sure you talk to this person and figure out exactly what is needed.


Gifts, decorations, food, guests etc. The holidays are synonymous with expense. For someone who is struggling financially, the pressure to pay for all these expenses can cause intense stress or amplify existing mental illnesses. Often, parents feel guilty for not being able to buy their children or family expensive gifts, and they are embarrassed about not being able to host extravagant Christmas parties. It's incredibly important at this time to tell your loved ones that the importance of the holidays is to spend time together and emphasize that you aren't holding anyone to crazy expectations. Sometimes just saying “Thank you for how hard you work” can be comforting enough. We are human – no one expects us to be superheroes. What you are able to manage is enough.


Perhaps there was a family conflict, your family does not accept you, or you don’t feel as though you have a family at all. The pressure to be with family or spend time with those whose company you don't enjoy can have a big effect on mental health. Loneliness is amplified at a time of year that is supposed to be about companionship. Remember: there is no rule-book for the holidays. There is no holiday police force telling you how you must celebrate. You do not have to have a picture-perfect family; you don’t have to force yourself to be around people who make you feel less-than. A family can be chosen – it does not have to be joined by blood. And you certainly do not need to be surrounded by a huge group of people. How you celebrate is your choice. If you know someone who maybe doesn’t have a place to go for the holidays or has a difficult family life, offer to have that person over at your place for the holidays if that is something you can manage. This simple gesture of kindness can make a huge difference.


The holidays are the hub of all things food-related, not to mention an abundant consumption of wine and champagne. As a result, this can be a difficult and overwhelming time for those struggling with eating disorders and substance abuse. If this is you, don’t be afraid to reach out to those closest to you and ask for extra support during this time. Everyone could use a little extra guidance or a hand to hold. If you know friends or family who are struggling, let them know you are there for them and that you have their back. Support and companionship go a long way.

Remember that you can take things one step at a time and that you should celebrate little victories. It’s the small things that matter, not the huge things. Focus on what you can and have accomplished. Reach out if this time is difficult for you or for loved ones who are struggling. This is your holiday and there is no one forcing you to celebrate a certain way. The holidays can be an overwhelming time. These feelings are understandable, and they don’t have to be dealt with alone.

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