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Five ways to protect your mental health from holiday stress

While the holiday season may be a time of joy for many, for others it can actually make depression and anxiety worse. In fact, 52% of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation during the holiday season. With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s important to find ways to cope with the added stress that can come with this time of year.

Here are five ways that the holidays can be overwhelming and what you can do to protect your mental health.

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 the ideal. Are we happy enough? Are we doing it right? 

Or perhaps the holidays aren’t even part of your cultural tradition, but you feel pressure to celebrate them for fear of feeling excluded. 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 personal finances or with substances. Consumption comes at a price that not everyone can afford. If so,

3. Trying to be the “perfect host”

You may be hosting a gathering this year for the first (or fiftieth) time. Maybe you feel like it’s your job to please everyone and make sure others are having enough fun and enjoying their holidays. 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. Half of those who experience loneliness have poorer mental health overall. Your connection to others and your community are key ways to protect 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 isn’t, for example, 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, or if your 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.