10 Mental Health Tips for the Holidays

By Eric Dorsa

For individuals struggling with mood and anxiety disorders, the holiday season can be particularly challenging. These 10 tips can help you reduce stress and find balance.

Tip 1: Redefine the holidays for yourself.

Look to your values, instead of perfectionism and other thoughts that can get in the way, to create a holiday season centered around what you truly value. Eric Dorsa, mental health advocate, recommends practicing gratitude, saying, “There is nothing wrong with me if I am not full of cheer during the holidays. Gratitude has helped me slow down and appreciate who and what I am grateful for in my life. I accept myself where I am and give myself permission to be enough.”

Tip 2: Stay connected with your community.

One of the benefits of this interconnected digital world is that we have so many options these days in how we reach out to our friends and loved ones. Text messaging, communicating through social media, phone calls and-in person visits can all enrich your holiday season and provide you with the connection that we all need. Even if you identify as an introvert, making the effort to stay in contact with others can lift your spirits when you feel down. If you are struggling to reach out to others or find yourself isolating, we invite you to join us for one of our complimentary virtual mental health support groups. Connect with others who understand what you are going through. Find a Pathlight support group here.

Tip 3: Stay connected with family -- and set boundaries that work for you.

Eric shares, “Let’s be honest: The holidays are a time of celebration, but they are often clouded by anxiety and stress, especially around family. What do you do when time with family causes you stress and anxiety, and you do not feel safe? Speaking from experience, it is okay to not spend the holidays with people who do not share your values. You are worthy of boundaries and self-care, and you deserve good mental health. We must take care of ourselves. This allows us to be more present for those who want to share this time of year together. I found it very helpful to plan events and get-togethers with my chosen family and friends. This helped to build positive holiday experiences.”

Tip 4: Move your body.

How often do you explore joyful movement in your daily life? Some people prefer to take their workouts seriously, but even a short, gentle walk outdoors can do wonders for your mood. Moderate exercise, balanced with adequate rest, a regular sleep routine, consistent nutrition and hydration, and taking prescribed medications, will go far in helping you stay balanced this holiday season.

Tip 5: Consider light therapy.

As the holidays approach, the days are becoming shorter and there is often a lack of sunlight. This can have a noticeable and negative impact on mood for many people. Ask your doctor about light therapy if you know you are prone to seasonal depression. Or, if you live in a sunny climate, consider exposing your skin to the sun regularly to soak up some extra vitamin D. We encourage you to work with a health care provider to determine how much sunlight is safe and healthy for you -- and to discuss whether light therapy might be an appropriate alternative to the sun.

Tip 6: Avoid alcohol and nonprescribed drugs.

We know -- the holiday season is often a time when alcohol is served in large amounts. Yes, some may find it helps to “take the edge off” or deal with symptoms of social anxiety, but alcohol is known to worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety over time. If you find that you are using more alcohol or nonprescribed drugs than you would like, please speak with a professional experienced in substance use disorders. And, if you are in recovery for substance use, know that it is okay to leave situations where you feel triggered. If you are at a function serving alcohol, it may be helpful to keep a nonalcoholic drink in your hand, like soda, seltzer or juice. This way, others are less inclined to “offer you a drink.”

Tip 7: Schedule “worry time” into your day.

The struggle with anxiety is real and it can get worse during the holidays. Maryrose Bauschka, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, recommends that you “schedule worry time each day so that your entire day does not become consumed with exhausting feelings of worry.” Set a timer, allow your mind to wander into your worries and when the timer is up, try to gently shift your thoughts away from your worries for the remainder of the day.

Tip 8: Manage your expectations over the holidays.

It can be tempting for some people to try to cram it all in -- parties, gifts, meals, traditions, family gatherings, work parties and more. Parents may find that they are drained attending additional school performances and holiday gatherings with children and teenagers. Tip: You don’t have to do it all! Dr. Bauschka shares, “Set realistic expectations for yourself (both in terms of time and budget if you plan to do holiday shopping) to ensure that you do not take on more than you can handle.”

Tip 9: Practice mindfulness every day.

Set a reminder on your mobile device to pause at various moments throughout the day. Try one of the following practices created by our clinical team members, put on a yoga video or simply relax in a comfortable seated posture for some easy, deep breaths, body scans or relaxation exercises.

Tip 10: Seek professional help if you are struggling.

The stress of the holiday season can lead to physical and mental health symptoms that can be quite distressing. Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms?

  • Disrupted sleep or constant fatigue
  • Frequent worries
  • Physical tension, including headaches
  • Irritability
  • Crying spells
  • Isolation or loneliness 
  • Gastrointestinal distress or other physical discomfort

If you are experiencing these symptoms, we encourage you to pay attention to the signals your brain and body send you during this time. Reach out for extra support -- and if you are interested in learning more about mental health treatment, please fill out this self-assessment form to connect with our team.

You CAN find balance this holiday season.
Eric shares, “This year, try going for a walk when the anxiety kicks in, watch your favorite movie and take time for yourself. Staying connected to treatment and/or a support system is essential. When all else fails, reaching out and seeing how my friends are doing saves the day. Remember: you are a gift to those in your life who love you and support you. And most importantly, don’t forget to get yourself a gift.”

Mental health resources

Please check out our resources supporting those with mood and anxiety disorders, and their families.

Clinically reviewed by Maggie Moore, MA, LMFT on October 12, 2023. A special thank you to Maryrose Bauschka, MD, board-certified psychiatrist with Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, for contributing clinical insights for this piece.

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Written by

Eric Dorsa

Eric Dorsa is an LGBTQ advocate, actor, comedian, and drag queen currently living in Chicago, Illinois. As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, Eric travels around the country sharing their…