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4 ways to stay on top of the holiday blues

Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!


For survivors of child abuse, the holiday season can still be a wonderful time to share joy and be merry with loved ones, cherishing traditions of faith, family and friends while celebrating the year gone by.

The season has a lot to offer, but according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for 64% of those suffering with a mental illness, the holidays make symptoms worse.

Even without a mental health disorder, there’s a non-clinical description of the unfestive feelings that can settle over the most wonderful time of the year — the holiday blues.

Some lose heart because they can’t be near loved ones during this sentimental time. Others strain to cope with the socializing expected of them. Some keep an even keel through December only to crash once all the tinsel is in boxes and the credit card bills are due.

As expectations exceed seasonal reality, budgets tighten, stress and fatigue grow. Overspending, overeating, drinking to excess, sleeping far too little — it all adds up to headaches, body aches, and holidays that aren’t happy at all.

There is no sure-fire way to find joy this Christmas, but a little attention in the right areas can make the holidays a little brighter, in spirit with the season.

1.    Get back to basics

Whether someone is coping with a mental health disorder or simply fighting off a case of ‘the holiday blues,’ the foundation of self-care is the same, no matter the season:

  • Diet: Over/undereating and the holidays go hand in hand. It’s hard to say no to that special family recipe and difficult to decide which potluck item to leave off an already-full plate. At the same time, dashing through the snow for shopping and socializing can leave little time and energy to prepare something healthy to enjoy. Healthy choices and mindful eating now will start the new year off right.
  • Sleep: The nights are longer and colder while travel, parties and church services alike vie for sleep-time hours. It’s as tempting to ‘make up’ for lost sleep as it is to lose it in the first place, but a steady schedule gives weary brains time to recuperate. Santa duty might be hard to escape, but even Old Man Christmas needs his z’s.
  • Exercise: A lot of people pause their exercise routine through the holidays, saving their energy for a surely-successful(?) new year’s resolution. When time in the gym is hard to come by and the sidewalks too icy to jog on, look for ways to incorporate more physical activity throughout everyday activities.
  • Drugs and Alcohol: This one is a big one, doubly so over the holidays (triply  for anyone coping with a mental health challenge). Family histories and old friends can add up to questionable choices around bad habits. Even light or moderate drinkers test their limits during the holidays, but “No.” remains a complete sentence. Budget for taxis/rideshares, and stay off the naughty list.
2.    Expect less stress, accept more grace

There are lots of demands over the holidays: church, family, friends, work, school, neighborhood stuff. Traditions just have a way of multiplying. Calling on a friend becomes a party. A party becomes an event. An event becomes a ‘thing’.

Did someone move the ‘Elf on the Shelf’? Get stocking stuffers? The annual family ornament? The Christmas pageant? Leave out carrots for the reindeer? WHERE DID AUNT TINA’S GINGERBREAD RECIPE GO!?

You don’t … have to.

If it isn’t something you enjoy, and someone else loves it, let them take charge. If gift exchanges leave you feeling drained, suggest something different. It’s okay to lay back and find joy in others’ joy. It’s okay to not do the thing.

A big lesson from the nativity story is that there is always a place for grace.

3.    It’s a season of giving

Asking others for help is a great way to nurture connections and share the holiday spirit. It’s also perfect to lighten the seasonal load. But for every person you ask for help, there is a future version of you to help today by not trying to do everything at once.

Budgeting for the season of spending is a good way to spread out the stress of the holidays, but it does take planning. Likewise, those who struggle to socialize can think of a ‘budget’ to accept holiday invitations and make social commitments.

Nurturing friendships and cherishing family time is always a priority, of course. Church, charity and community involvement enriches lives in ways that are immeasurable.

4.    Write more than a letter to Santa

It isn’t just visions of sugar plums that enjoy rent-free brainspace around the holidays. Gift lists, party plans, travel options, new year resolutions, receipt locations, holiday budgets, shopping lists — it’s too much for any one brain to keep track of.

Luckily, whether online or on paper, lists and calendars are there to save the day. Quiet the mental clutter as you celebrate crossing items off, ticking through the days of Christmas, one day at a time.

For emotional work, any time is a great time to journal. Examining feelings and writing out frustrations help keep the holiday blues at bay. Meanwhile, recounting special moments as they occur spotlights memories that really matter.

Still need help?

Survivors of child abuse can have a fraught relationship with the holidays. Counselors at the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline understand that, and are available online at, and to visit with over text or phone at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.