Mental health challenges are normal during holidays, says a Mass. therapist

This article was originally published in Spanish and has been translated and slightly edited for clarity.

Despite the Christmas lights, carols, and food, sometimes there’s someone who doesn’t really want to participate, sing, receive, or give gifts. Maybe you are that person who feels different during the holidays.

Struggling with mental health during the holidays is normal, said Dorimar Diaz, a therapist from Colorful Elasticityoffice of mental health services based in Massachusetts.

Financial challenges, complicated relationships, perfectionism, grief and more can be especially challenging this season.

“Occasions like parties or Christmas can be a great time to celebrate for some, but they can also bring negative thoughts,” Diaz said.

Diaz said the holidays usually intensify symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some of them include feeling faint, breathing hard, sadness, constant crying or avoiding meeting other people.

According to a 2019 American Psychological Association survey45% of Americans would rather skip the holidays to avoid stress.

Diaz said one of the best things to deal with these mental health challenges during the holidays is to talk about them. But she admitted that this can be difficult in some households.

“I believe sometimes people are afraid to talk about it because they think no one else feels the same way,” she said.

So what can people do from home?

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Here are some tips Diaz shared for dealing with anxiety, depression, stress and other emotional struggles during the holiday season:

Take a moment to breathe

December can be a complicated and stressful month, whether it’s because of finances, relationships or work.

Diaz reminds us to take a moment, every day, to pause and breathe. She recommends what she calls ocean breathing: “notice the air moving through your body and feel it slowly pass through your mouth… It sounds like the ocean!”

Diaz says it can help you be more present each day and get through all the December and Christmas-related activities you might be taking on, she explains.

Write down what you are grateful for

Diaz said it’s important to constantly remind ourselves why and what we’re grateful for to reorient persistent negative thoughts. This is a way to deal with grief and reminds us that there are reasons to live, such as health, family, work, house and more.

Think about it, write about it or talk about it, she said.

Awaken your five senses

A way to be grateful and more present is to awaken the five senses, Diaz said. When someone is going through an anxiety episode, she said, it’s hard to focus on details or what’s around them, so awakening your five senses helps you relax and focus more on your body.

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Diaz explains, “To calm your body and be more present, list five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one taste that you can feel.”

Discover your relaxation technique

Everyone has a way to relax and find peace, Diaz said. She personally writes daily, at least for 20 minutes, to relax her mind. If there’s something you know will help you calm down, Diaz says make time to do it.

Accept all feelings

Diaz said any feeling is normal during the holidays and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We are not the only ones who feel this way, so it is important to acknowledge that feeling and accept it.

“I’ve had so many clients and I haven’t found a single person who feels completely fine during Christmas,” she said.

Talk to someone you can trust or seek professional help

“Talk to your family, talk about what you’re going through, and don’t be afraid to explain your feelings,” advises Diaz. Plus, if we witness someone, a relative, friend, couple or neighbor going through a difficult time, we can help them.

Diaz says to reach out and talk, but to wait for a good moment to do so. There are certain boundaries and there may be a chance that the person does not feel comfortable talking about everything. For example, family dinner is not a good time to ask someone what’s going on.

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If the case is difficult and talking to family is difficult for a person or for you, Diaz advises seeking professional help either before, during or after the holidays.

Contact any member of the Colorful elasticity for support or call 988.

Some mental health resources and contact information:

SAMHSA National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as Treatment Referral Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, toll-free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members experiencing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups and community-based organisations. Also, visit the online treatment locator or text your zip code to: 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you.

National Mental Health Association Helpline; 1-800-969-6642

Al-Anon/Alateen Family Group Headquarters; 1-800-344-2666; provides information about Al-Anon/Alateen and directions to local meetings.

Cancer Information Service; 1-800-4-RAK (1-800-422-6237).

National Institute on Aging; 1-800-222-2225; A specialist is available to answer questions in Spanish.

National Women’s Health Information Center; 1-800-994-WOMAN (1-800-994-9662). Trained information and referral specialists in English and Spanish.


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