Mental Health and the Holidays 

Two weeks to Christmas, no decorations up at our house, except the tree, and that only had lights. No presents bought or even planned, and the only thing under that tree was a Chia pet that my husband got at a gift exchange.

No cookie making, no caroling, no Christmas cards, no turkey in the freezer – nope, nada, nothing.

It was a rough Christmas that year.

There wasn’t a real reason, just super busy at work. Of course, that wasn’t cutting it for me. No one, especially not my husband, was expecting me to kill myself to roll out the holiday cheer. But I was and I expected it. The kind of Christmas my parents produced when I was a kid, not just the perfect presents for my kids, but time spent together continuing the holiday traditions that I love and wanted to share with them.

Because I didn’t make it a perfect Christmas that year. I remember going to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, sad that I hadn’t gotten all the gifts that I wanted for my boys, we hadn’t been out to see Christmas lights and I hadn’t gotten anything for the neighbors. I was feeling pretty bad about myself.

That’s actually pretty common when you set up unrealistic expectations, which can lead to anxiety and stress, especially around the holidays, supposedly the happiest time of the year.

But that’s not always the case.

For some people, the holidays are hard. If they have lost a family member or they can’t be with the ones they love, Christmas can be rough. If they have lost a job or their home, it’s hard to have any holiday cheer, much less presents, turkey, or homemade cookies.

So what do you do? The Mayo Clinic has some ideas:
  • Acknowledge that you’re sad, cry if you need to. Don’t force yourself to be happy.
  • Reach out to others, like community or religious groups for support. Nothing makes me happier than seeing other people happy, and you might meet new people.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect, especially this year. You might not be able to be with all the people you love because of this rotten COVID, but you can call them, share photos, or get together on Zoom.
  • Try to set aside small grievances with friends and family. Reach out. They probably miss you, too.
  • Don’t overspend. Set a budget and stick to it so that you won’t be overwhelmed when the bills come in. Gifts don’t have to be perfect. Donate to a charity, give a handmade gift, or start a family gift exchange.
  • Make a list of the things that have to get done, like shopping and baking, and set aside time for each.
  • Say no. You can’t do anything. Figure out what is really important and make those things a priority.
  • Keep up your healthy habits, like eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising. Avoid overeating, too much smoking, drinking, or drug use.
  • Take a break. Even 15 minutes of time alone can help you make it through a tough day. Take a walk, listen to music, or read a book.
  • Get professional help if you are sad, can’t sleep, are irritable, or anxious. Talk to your doctor or mental health professional.
Staying Positive 

Of course, I still remember being sad that Christmas Eve, feeling like I wasn’t good enough, no matter how hard I tried. I also remember that at Midnight Mass when the bells started to ring, the choir started to sing and the priest laid the baby in the manger. That’s when I realized that presents, cookies, and lights didn’t really matter.

Furthermore, I looked at my beautiful boys, my sweet husband, and the baby in the manger and I knew that it was a perfect Christmas. And years from now, when another Christmas isn’t perfect when we can’t be together, I hope that I can remember the wonder and the joy. And remember, mental health and the holidays go hand in hand!

By Amanda Rogers for Surepoint Medical Centers

Amanda Rogers is a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas

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