Why The Holiday Season Can Destroy Good Mental Health (And What To Do)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? You hear Christmas music playing as you stroll through the mall — but instead of feeling joy surge through your body, fear sinks in as a pang of anxiety washes over you.

While the holiday season is traditionally known for being a time of peace, love and unity, the reality is the holidays are often some of the most stressful times of year. Commercials portraying legions of smiling faces in cheery Christmas scenarios are always nice to see but fail to accurately show the chaos that often ensues behind the scenes leading up to the big day.

Since the holiday season is amped up commercially so frequently, it sets high expectations for most people, which can leave some of us feeling absolutely dreadful. After all, who wants to have a sad holiday? The pressure to make each holiday season the best one yet can be psychologically damaging.

Take a look at these reasons why the holiday season can destroy good mental health:

1. Christmas music can drive you nuts

The sound of delightful Christmas tunes is the ultimate sign the holidays are officially underway, but can these joyful sounds actually give you the blues? According to a recent article by NBC News, psychologists have found that playing Christmas music too early in the year can be detrimental to your mental health. So as much as you may like hearing about “oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh,” give your brain a break and shut off those holiday melodies when they become too overwhelming.

2. The grass is always greener on the other side

Nothing is worse than watching your loved one rip open their gift, only to see a brief flash of disappointment cross their face before they smile and try to politely say, “Thank you.” It’s obvious, they hate their gift. They didn’t say it, but it’s written all over their face.

This is a common occurrence during the holidays. With the allure of surprise gifts, it can be hard to pick the perfect present without first finding out what your loved ones actually need. This grey area of uncertainty can cause major stress. So, alas, you embark on a holiday craze-driven journey to find the perfect surprise gift, which will more than likely end with you laying curled in a ball cursing at terrible ol’ Saint Nick for creating such an insane holiday.

3. The letdown can be real

Being let down goes both ways. Not only can you fear letting your loved ones down but you can also fear being let down as well. How many times have you been handed a gift only to eagerly and ravenously rip off the wrapping paper… just to find socks? It happens! You may even say to yourself, “Wow, if the shoe were on the other foot, I would have never given them a gift like that!”

Prepare yourself mentally in advance to prevent feeling crushed by what you may perceive as someone else’s total lack of gift selection awareness. It’s helpful to remember that everyone’s perceptions are different. If you’re given an egregious gift, try to remember the age-old adage, “It’s the thought that counts.” Releasing expectations about what you may receive for the holidays will give you the opportunity to practice gratitude and actually enjoy time with family and friends

How to deal with the holiday season

So what does one do to avoid an emotional Christmas catastrophe? First off, take a deep breath. Secondly, understand your anxiety is completely normal. I mean, who is truly capable of finding the perfect gift? And more so, who can ever please everyone 100 percent? It’s impossible, so release all expectations about how the holiday season should play out.

Between your frantic search for perfect presents, the arrival of looney family members, and the stress of traveling on the road with thousands of road raged holiday drivers, it can be enough to make you question why you even participate in the holiday season.

When you feel yourself about to throw in the towel and say “Screw the holidays” entirely, take these necessary steps to rebalance your mental health:

Create a ‘no-holiday’ zone

As silly as it sounds, I believe this tip is a particularly helpful one. Having a certain space where you can escape your holiday woes is essential for re-centering yourself and maintaining composure. Within this zone, vow to never speak of, concern yourself with or divulge in any holiday-related discussions or activities. Your holiday-free zone can be your room, car or wherever you would like to escape the holiday frenzy. While you’re in your makeshift “no-holiday” fortress, take advantage of the solidarity and indulge in a quick power nap to refresh your mood. With jam-packed holiday schedules lined up causing the potential for major sleep deprivation, most people forget about self-care. Pencil in time to rejuvenate yourself with a good old-fashion nap.

Burn off your anger

If you ever feel enraged by holiday hurdles, burn off your anger (literally). Muster up the motivation to crank out a great workout and you’ll be feeling calmer in no time. Exercise helps your body release chemicals called endorphins (a.k.a. happy vibes). The endorphins that are released produce a positive change in your mood. Consider a workout a win-win. You get to turn your frown upside down and burn off those extra slices of pie you devoured!

Swing by to see your friendly neighborhood therapist

Because even Peter Parker needs support! If you’re lucky enough to receive cash for Christmas, why not use it to visit a therapist to work through troubling thoughts? Sometimes just having the opportunity to unload stressful thoughts onto a trusted stranger can be a huge relief. You get an opportunity to vent without the damaging consequences of your family reminding you of your frustrations should they decide to bring it up to you again next holiday season.

The holidays are never easy. It’s a time riddled with high expectations and the search for materialistic happiness, but don’t let that turn you into a Grinch this holiday season. Take these steps to keep your cool and you’ll be ready to stand up and face the holidays like a champ!

— Laura Jazmin Tolliver

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