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Five ways to protect your mental health this holiday

Holiday magic. Although it’s real for some, the magic can also be a thin veneer, hiding challenging emotions that can come along with the celebrations — in fact, 52% of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation during the holiday season. And, if you’re already depressed or experiencing anxiety, the holidays can make things even worse.  

Here are five ways that the holidays can be just too much, adding stress and putting strain on our mental health. Do you see yourself in these? If so, here are some tips to help preserve your peace of mind.

1. (Too) great expectations

The image of the “perfect holiday” permeates the mainstream culture. We know exactly how it’s supposed to go. We feel obligations. We compare ourselves to it. Are we happy enough? Are we doing it right? The pressure for perfection may be even greater after last year’s restrictions on gathering caused conflict, disappointment and forced isolation. Are we hoping and expecting “wow” this year?

Maybe the holidays aren’t part of your cultural tradition, but you feel pressure to celebrate them. Or you feel excluded if you don’t. Or maybe they’re part of a tradition you reject. If so,

2. Merriment to the max

Over-eating. Over-drinking. Over-spending. General over-indulgence. It seems the holidays go hand and hand with them. This compulsory consumerism and mandatory merriment can have a damaging effect on your mental health, especially if you struggle with your finances. Consumption comes at a price that not everyone can afford. If so,

3. Your plate overfloweth

You may be hosting a gathering this year for the first (or fiftieth) time. Maybe you feel responsible for other people’s entertainment and enjoyment. And maybe, you feel like it’s your job to please everyone and make sure others are having enough fun and enjoying their holidays, too. That’s a lot of pressure. If so,

4. Too much togetherness

Sometimes our holiday traditions are intensely social. Parties, get-togethers and family dinners can create relationship dynamics that are rife with discomfort, and even conflict. Tensions can run high. Because our holiday traditions can date back to childhood, we may be called on to play roles we aren’t comfortable playing any longer. If so,

5. Feeling left out in the cold
More than one in 10 Canadians often or always feel lonely. And, in those who experience loneliness, half have poorer mental health overall. Your connection to others and your community are key protective factors for everyone’s mental health, so loneliness is something to pay attention to. The holidays can be especially hard if you feel lonely.

There are many reasons you might be alone during the holidays. Sometimes it’s your choice, and sometimes it just isn’t. Like if you’ve lost someone, moved away or grown apart. If you are already feeling isolated socially, or have a social or other anxiety disorder, being alone during the holidays can make things worse. If so,

If you are struggling, know that there is help and hope.

If, despite your best efforts, you feel overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety or sadness, negative feelings are persistent or get in the way of your daily life, you should reach out for mental health support:

Holidays aren’t magical for everyone. That’s because the “most wonderful time of the year” can be fraught with challenges and situations that affect our mental health. Be prepared. If you’re dreading the holidays, don’t let them just happen to you. Get out in front of them. And take good care.