Holidays + Mental Health: Taking Care of Yourself This Season

December 2, 2022

The holidays are almost here! This time of year can be really special, but for some, it’s emotionally draining—and the toll it takes on their mental health is overwhelming.

And if you’ve noticed that this year just doesn’t feel as joyful or celebratory as you think it should, you’re not alone. In fact, a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64 percent of people with mental illness feel that the holidays present additional challenges every year. But whether or not you’ve struggled with mental health before, everyone is susceptible to feeling low or extreme stress. 

Mental Health Tips for College Students

It’s essential to recognize when we don’t feel our best and find ways to work through or cope with those emotions. The tools we use to manage our mental health look different for everyone; some things you learn will work better than others. To help you build your mental health toolkit, here are some tips to keep in mind during the holiday season:

Maintain Your Regular Routine and Habits 

The holiday season demands more time and energy while tempting us with various unhealthy behaviors. It can be easy to forego your regular diet, skip workouts, or throw your sleep schedule off.

Some rule-bending is good for you (we all could use a weekend party to de-stress), but tossing your healthy habits out the window can be detrimental.

Do your best to balance your regular routine with the holiday season. Some degree of normalcy or routine can help keep feelings of frustration or stress at bay. And when it comes to your holiday festivity participation, remember this essential tip: Everything in moderation. You don’t have to have a packed calendar to feel the season’s spirit, especially if you feel overwhelmed or exhausted.

Be honest about what activities you can realistically do and which are truly important to you. And if you don’t feel much like celebrating, that’s okay, too. Those who are genuinely in your corner will understand.

Don’t Let Money Dictate Your Holidays

The commercial aspects of the holiday season can make you think that you’re somehow inadequate if you can’t afford to spend cash on gifts or parties. But those things should never put you into a financial bind; money is a pretty common stressor among college students. There are many ways to give a great gift that won’t break the bank. The true spirit of the holidays is about togetherness and gratitude.

Do Get Some Sunlight

As the days grow shorter and colder, sunlight becomes more sparse. This means you’re at risk of running low on vitamin D and developing symptoms of depression. To combat this, get as much sun as you can. If the weather allows, bundle up and take an afternoon walk for your mental health.

But we know how hard it is to go outside when the weather isn’t cooperating. If you’re going to stay indoors, consider opening a window (or at least pulling back the curtains) for a small ray of sunshine. You might even consider purchasing a light therapy box that can replace natural light at any time of the day.

Do Make Time for Gratitude

The holiday season is the perfect time of year to reflect on the things you’re grateful for. A gratitude practice is a great way to reframe your perspective and see your life in a better light. 

Start with a gratitude journal to find what you’re most thankful for. And if you notice that there are specific people who make it into the journal frequently, reach out to them and let them know you’re grateful for them. You’d be surprised how communicating your appreciation can create a stronger connection with those you love.

Do Find Ways to Help Others

Performing acts of service without the expectation of reward can feel amazing. Selflessness and kindness are beneficial for those you serve and yourself. Studies have found a significant connection between acts of kindness and our mental well-being. Now, your acts of service don’t have to be big—you could help tidy up your residence hall, do the dishes for a roommate, or write a quick thank-you card to a professor that helped you this year.

Do Ask for Help

If you only remember one of these mental health tips on the list, remember this one. If you’re struggling this holiday season, you don’t need to struggle alone. Ask for help.

You’d be surprised how a loved one, friends, colleagues, or mental health professionals are eager to help you feel your best. Therapists commonly help those struggling with seasonal depression or anxiety and can give you clinically-based coping advice to help.

Remember, you’re not alone. It’s okay to feel stressed during this time of year—what’s more important is that you’re willing to ask for (and receive) the help you need.