How to Survive the Holidays With a Mental Illness

The holiday season can be stressful and chaotic, and it can seem even more so when you are struggling with a mental illness. If you are dealing with depression, anxiety, an addiction, or some other mental health condition, the holidays might come close to putting you over the edge and worsening your condition. Check out this list of five tips on how to survive the holidays when you are affected by a mental illness.


1. Put Self-Care at the Top of Your Priority List

During the busy holiday season, it’s easy to lose sight of all of the things you need to do to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy. If you get too caught up in shopping, going to parties, getting together with faraway family and friends, and all of the other traditions of the season, you might not be taking care of yourself. Here are some of the things you should be sure to keep up with in terms of self-care to survive the holidays.


If you aren’t sleeping well, you are adding to your stress level. Stress and anxiety lead to less sleep, and less sleep leads to more stress and anxiety, so make it a priority to get the rest that you need. Try to get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night (nine or more if you are under the age of 18). If you’re struggling with insomnia, talk to your doctor about ways you can sleep more easily.


The holiday season is often filled with cookies, high-fat appetizers, sugary hot drinks, and more. While it’s fine to partake in moderation, be sure that you’re still getting the fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains that you need for good physical and mental health.


Getting exercise each day not only keeps you physically healthy but it can also keep symptoms of depression and anxiety at bay. This is particularly important during the winter when you might be moving around less than you do during the summer. Also, the shorter days can contribute to seasonal affective disorder, which is also known as the winter blues. Getting outdoors and exercising can nip those symptoms in the bud.


2. Practice Saying No to People, Places, and Events

You will undoubtedly be invited to various functions and to spend time with loved ones whom you might not have seen all year long. If you are feeling overwhelmed and struggling with a mental health condition, you might need to say no to some of these get-togethers. To survive the holidays, practice coming up with ways to say no politely. Remember that, “no thank you,” is a perfectly acceptable way to decline an invitation. You can add more information if you’d like, but don’t feel pressured into sharing more than you’d like. Think ahead of time about how much you’d like to commit to this holiday season and stick to it.


3. Keep Your Goals Reasonable

While many of us have lofty goals and perfect pictures in mind when it comes to the holidays, the truth is that no one is going to have an absolutely perfect holiday. Think about what’s most important to you and try not to worry about the rest. For example, if you don’t enjoy holiday baking, then just decide not to do it. Pick up cookies from a bakery, ask someone else to bring them to your next gathering, or omit them altogether.


Along the same lines, make a budget and stick to it. Money worries can add to depression and anxiety, so don’t get into the situation where you aren’t comfortable with the amount that you’re spending. If you have a small budget this year, consider letting relatives know that you won’t be exchanging gifts. You could also look for homemade gifts to make; keep in mind, however, that you don’t want to add to your stress levels, so keep it simple.


4. Find Ways to Relax

Think about ways that you can add some relaxation into your day. There are many relaxation techniques that you could try. For example, consider taking up yoga or meditation. Taking a few minutes each day to repeat some calming affirmations can help. So can using progressive muscle relaxation or listening to relaxation audio files. Something as simple as listening to a recording of nature sounds or rainfall could help you get into a calmer mood. Take time out during the day to do things for yourself that will boost your mood and help you relax.


5. Keep Up With Your Mental Health Appointments

If you are currently seeing a mental health professional, make sure that you continue to carve out time for your appointments. It is a busy season, but that’s no reason to let your mental health care or any of your other routines fall by the wayside. Keep your appointments as you have been to this point. If you or your therapist is going to be traveling for the holidays, find out how you can keep up the continuum of care. You might be able to switch your appointment to right before you leave and then have another appointment directly after you return, for example.


If you are not currently in care but you feel that you need to be in order to survive the holidays, don’t hesitate to call and make an appointment. Counselors work all year long and someone will be glad to add you to their schedule.


You Can Survive the Holidays!

Dealing with a mental health condition can be overwhelming at any time of the year, but when you’re in the midst of the holiday season, it can be even more so. To survive the holidays with a mental illness, talk to your family members and loved ones about your limitations and, most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Take the steps needed to ensure your physical and mental health before giving your time and energy to others. Much as parents are told to put on their own oxygen masks before helping children with theirs during airplane safety demonstrations, you need to think about your own self-care before trying to make the holiday magical for other people. Talk to your mental health professional about additional ways to make the holidays more fun and less stressful.