The holidays have a way of stirring up and dropping off a parade of feelings at our doorstep—ranging from joy and excitement to anxiety and dread.
The “most wonderful time of the year,” spanning the months of November through January, can leave many feeling increased levels of stress or pressure to look or act a certain way. For others, the season can bring up past trauma or increase feelings of loneliness.
To say the holidays are a stressful time would be an understatement.
For many, the holidays are also a time when one’s mental health journey is put to the test.
Identifying holiday triggers is crucially important for our own well-being. With a few practical tips, we can redefine what the holiday season means to us for years and years to come.
Here are a few commonly experienced holiday triggers and some helpful ways to combat the negative emotions or feelings they bring up:
Common Holiday Triggers
With rows of shiny decor dominating our vision, a jam-packed calendar with no breathing room in sight, and a surplus of over-time hours ahead to ensure we fulfill our gift-giving duties, it’s no wonder the holidays can induce quite the fight-or-flight response, oftentimes causing an assortment of painful memories to make their way to the surface.
When using the word ‘trigger,’ we refer to both the internal and external forces that influence our mind and body. Encountering triggers may make an individual more susceptible to emotional imbalances, or conflict, and more at-risk of relapse.
Whether you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression or another mental health condition around the approaching holiday season, here are some common holiday triggers you’ll want to be aware of and prepare for:
- Increased Stress and Expectations: Between choosing which family member’s gathering to attend after years of unresolved conflict and finding ways to successfully dodge the uncomfortable conversations that arise at the dinner table, it’s without question how this time of year can increase stress levels and leaves us feeling pressured to meet the expectations of others.
- Financial Strain: Gift-giving no longer means just exchanging with close family or friends. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see the financial component of the holiday season crossing over to the professional world as well; between Secret Santa, grab-bags, office potlucks and fancy parties, investing financially towards all holiday-themed activities can be exhausting—especially for our wallets.
- Time Management Concerns: Outside of the strong financial burden felt by many, this is the time of year when we question how 24 hours in the day can vanish so quickly. With new responsibilities, deadlines and events lined up at our door, balancing work, family, friends, and other previous engagements is even more challenging the normal.
- Mental Health Struggles: For individuals who have anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions, certain interactions and experiences during this season can be more harmful than helpful. While it’s important to stay connected with the people we trust and care about, individuals may feel pressured to hide their symptoms or to alleviate symptoms in an unhealthy way during the holidays.
While the holiday season is a vulnerable time for many, identifying and understanding personal triggers with the help of a trained professional can make a great impact on your health and well-being all year round.
Ways to Cope with Holiday Stress
If you know the holidays have a tendency to take a toll on you, physically or emotionally, it’s important to stay proactive and find ways to cope with holiday stress before these feelings start building up. Here are a few tips:
- Feel your feelings – don’t repress them. Positive or negative, your feelings are still valid, even during the festive season.
- Connect with those you trust and feel comfortable with. A support system is always important, but especially during a time of year that can feel isolating to many.
- Practice empathy and compassion for yourself and others. Give yourself grace when you need it, and remember that everyone around you may also have their own struggles.
- Try not to set unrealistic expectations of yourself (or feel pressured to succumb to those of others). Establish your boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no.
- Set a schedule for shopping, cooking, and activities. Making a to-do list can help you visualize and manage your time when you’ve got a million things on your plate.
- Continue healthy habits. It’s always okay to indulge in some of the season’s treats, but don’t forget to keep your mental and physical health a priority.
- Make time for self-care daily (even if only for a few minutes). You’ll feel better prepared to handle everything else when you take some time for yourself first.
- Adopt one or two grounding exercises that work for you (deep breathing, visualization, experimenting with essential oils, stretching or yoga).
- Seek help and support from a trained mental health professional if you need to. Don’t be afraid or feel guilty about needing extra help during this time of year. You don’t have to go through the holiday season alone.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2020, December 11). Tips for coping with Holiday Stress. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544.