Holiday Sadness

Navigating Sadness and Stress During the Holidays

The holiday season is typically a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. However, for many, it can also bring feelings of sadness and stress. Whether you’re dealing with personal challenges, loss, or the pressure to create the perfect holiday, these emotions are entirely valid and common. Here are some strategies to help you navigate sadness and stress during the holiday season and find moments of happiness and peace:

A NAMI study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. For individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression. If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms. 

Here are some suggestions for how you can reduce stress and maintain good mental health during the holiday season:

Accept Your Needs

Be kind to yourself! Put your own mental and physical well-being first. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations. Is shopping for holiday gifts too stressful for you? What is making you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can take steps to avoid or cope with stress.

Write a Gratitude List and Offer Thanks

As we near the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect back on what you are grateful for, then thank those who have supported you. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health. 2023 has been an especially challenging year for us all. In the midst of it all, is there something or someone for whom you are grateful?

Manage Your Time and Don’t Try to Do Too Much

Prioritizing your time and activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. It’s okay to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.

Be Realistic

Even pre-pandemic, the happy lives of the people shown in those holiday commercials are fictional. We all have struggles one time or another and it’s not realistic to expect otherwise. Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to find the perfect gift or have a peaceful time with family.

Set Boundaries

Family dynamics can be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control your role. If you need to, find ways to limit your exposure.

Practice Relaxation

Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.

Exercise Daily

Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.

Set Aside Time for Yourself and Prioritize Self-Care

Schedule time for activities that make you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage, listening to music you love, or taking your dog for a walk. It’s okay to prioritize alone time you need to recharge.

Eat Well

With dinners, parties, and cookie trays at every turn, our eating habits are challenged during the holiday season. Try to maintain a healthy diet through it all. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.

Get Enough Sleep

Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep.

Avoid Alcohol and Drugs

They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.

Spend Time in Nature

Studies show that time in nature reduces stress. Need to break away from family during a holiday gathering? Take a walk in a local park.


The act of volunteering can provide a great source of comfort. By helping people who are not as fortunate, you can also feel less lonely or isolated and more connected to your community.

Find Support

Whether it’s with friends, family, a counselor or a support group, airing out and talking can help. Consider attending a free support group provided by your local NAMI affiliate. If you or someone you love is experiencing a crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255; use the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24/7 crisis support via text message; or call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M–F, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. PT for free mental health info, referrals and support.

Keep Up or seek Therapy

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. They can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them. If you’re already seeing a therapist, keep it up.

The holiday season is a time for self-compassion, understanding, and patience. It’s okay to experience sadness and stress, but by implementing these strategies, you can find moments of happiness, connection, and peace during this special time of year. Remember, you are not alone in your feelings, and Blue Sky Medical is available for mental health support to help you through this season and beyond.


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