A Therapist Teaches How To Keep Your Holiday Mental Health Demons At Bay

Here is how to cope when the year's end also feels like your wit's end.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 19, 2022

For a lot of people, holiday season merriment is usually eclipsed by stress, anxiety, and poor mental health. They find themselves in therapy with questions like:

  • "Why does everyone have someone special to spend this time with and not me?"
  • "Why is the best time of the year the worst time for me?"
  • "I always promise that I will enjoy myself, but end up feeling drained and isolated. Why is that?"
  • "I want to be the person who celebrates holidays and hosts parties, but when the time comes around I just want to curl up in my bed and sleep. Is celebrating festivals just not for me?"

You are not alone in this love-hate relationship with the holiday season. The holidays set high-pressure expectations on people to celebrate in specific ways, to spend beyond their means, and to project happiness even if they're going through something difficult.

While bracing for impact is a decent strategy to safeguard your mental health during the festivities, you do not have to feel trapped in this limbo forever. There are ways to repair your relationship with the holidays.

Here are two reasons why you may get the holiday blues and what you can do to push through.

#1. Let there be light

We underestimate the value of sunlight exposure in our day-to-day mood and energy levels. For those of us celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving during the colder, gloomier months, staying in a sunny mood can be hard.

If you find yourself low and lethargic during the holidays, a simple reason behind it could be a lack of sun exposure. According to researcher Satoshi Kanazawa, "the natural response designed by evolution is to feel safe, secure, and happy when exposed to sunlight."

Kanazawa's study published in the Journal of Cognition and Emotion points out that people in countries that receive a higher number of annual sunshine hours report higher levels of happiness.

For some of us, the darkness-driven sadness can get worse and turn into seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People with seasonal depression typically experience symptoms of depression such as sadness, low energy, and loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Some people may also experience changes in their appetite or weight, sleep problems, and feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness.

There are a couple of solutions to this problem:

  1. Light therapy. Sunlight exposure is not under our control, but artificial light exposure is. Light therapy has shown promising results for alleviating symptoms of seasonal depression. Fight the urge to binge-watch Netflix all day in a dark room. Step outdoors, open the curtains, and ditch the dim 'mood lighting' for a while.
  2. Pharmacotherapy. If things don't get better after you've tried everything else, try booking an appointment with a therapist to talk about medication. Certain types of medicines help manage the deficit of neurotransmitters like serotonin in your brain caused by low sunlight exposure (and other related causes).

#2. Plan the partying

Obligations get the better of us during the festive season. Instead of doing what we really want during the holidays, we feel pressured to hang out with people that we might not otherwise choose to spend time with. We are exposed to addiction triggers and sometimes re-open chapters of our lives we thought we had left behind.

A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine reports that emergency psychiatric cases drop right before the holidays but skyrocket right after.

If we want to avoid a rough ride during the holidays, we have to be smart about our preparation. A pre-holiday checklist could include the following things:

  1. Declining events that you don't want to go to. Learn to say 'no' to parties that have alcohol and drugs if you have a substance problem. Instead, consider hosting a cozy dinner party. If spending the holidays with your family is bad for your mental health, just stick to a video call instead. Spend holidays with people you love or even alone, doing something you want to do. Remember, there is no right way to celebrate.
  2. Set a budget. When the festive spirit takes over, logic takes a nose dive while prices (and your generosity) spike. Planning your expenses ahead of time with a trusted person will help you manage your money during the most expensive time of the year.
  3. Ask for help. Talking to a therapist before and after the holidays can be a life-changing thing for people who equate the holidays with grief, anxiety, and/or emotional flashbacks. Therapy can help you break your negative association with the holidays, allowing you to form new memories that you can cherish and revisit.


It is difficult to go through life thinking everyone else is happy when you are not, but it's even worse during the holidays. Define what a celebration means to you so you can reclaim the holidays for yourself.