The Wellness Warrior's Guide to Getting Through a Not-So-Happy Holiday

The holiday season is often viewed as a period of joyous celebration with family and friends. The world comes alive with music, smiles with acts of charity, and celebrates togetherness. For some, however, this time of year can trigger feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. In a survey by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of those surveyed confirmed being affected by the “Holiday Blues,” while 24% reported the holidays affect them a lot.

Individuals may experience:

  • fatigue
  • tension
  • frustration
  • loneliness
  • isolation
  • sadness
  • a sense of loss
  • nervousness
  • stress

These symptoms (or increased symptoms, if one is affected by a mental health condition) can be linked to other holiday-related factors as well, such as less sunlight, changes in diet and routine, increased consumption of substances, financial stress related to gift giving, and conflict with family or friends. Although some of these symptoms may be temporary, it is important to identify and practice ways of coping as some of us seemingly trudge through the holidays.

Here are some tips for managing your mental health throughout the holiday season:

Go to Your Therapy Sessions

The holidays are busy, and the idea of brushing off a therapy session in order to cram in an hour’s worth of holiday errands can be incredibly inviting. However, it can also create more stress and frustration. Being able to pause and reflect is important in maintaining mental health, and the holidays may bring up difficult emotions or experiences that are important to process.

Find a Positive Way to Honor Those Lost

The holidays can bring up feelings of grief as we celebrate without loved ones who have passed. Incorporate a tradition that can allow you to remember and celebrate your loved one in a positive manner. Some ideas may be to write a letter, light a candle, share favorite stories, or play the person’s favorite music. Although it may look different, we can still make those passed a part of our celebration.

Stay Active

I know I say this a lot – and I mean A LOT – but I have not found a better stress reliever than exercise. Even if it’s a short walk or 10 minute stretch, take some time to get your blood moving and get those endorphins pumping. This can also be a time for some mindfulness practice, as we can strive to be present with our bodies and minds throughout movement.

Stay organized

During the holidays, it sometimes seems as if the “To Do” lists never end. Make lists, keep a routine, and practice good time management skills. Staying organized can help ease anxieties, develop realistic expectations, and prevent ourselves from biting off more than we can chew.

Do not Go Broke to Show Your Love

Financial concerns can be the bulk of stress throughout the holiday season. Our society puts intense pressure on gift giving as a way to show that we care, which can cause depression, anxiety, and stress for those struggling with finances. If you are struggling with finances, stick to a budget that can assist with money management. If you have very limited funds (we’ve all been there!), the people who love you will understand. Some low cost/no cost gift ideas might include making a CD, writing a poem, printing and framing pictures, doing an activity or an experience, or re-purposing something.

Relax

Spend extra time checking in with yourself to determine what you need to stay stress-free and relaxed. Self care is even more important during times of high stress and feeling overwhelmed.

Play Well With Others

When we spend a lot of time with family it can create tension, specifically when we have differing opinions or turbulent relationships. Make sure to communicate effectively about your experiences and emotions in order to try and make others aware of how you are impacted turbulent relationships or conflict. If you have the time, check out this article titled 5 Ways to Talk About Touchy Topics with Those You Care About to get some ideas on how to make holiday interactions a little smoother.

The Power of Breath

There are several actions that occur in our body without clear direction and effort from our brain. A heart beat, for example, is a powerful and- barring any serious health issues- automatic rhythm that plays a vital role in keeping our bodies alive. My brain always visualizes Osmosis Jones running around inside my body to ensure that every task is being completed without my having to consciously perform them. It makes things, like breathing, seem effortless.

Although we may be accustomed to the effortlessness of breathing, how often do we truly take a moment to mindfully connect with our breath? In meditation, attention to the breath is a method of becoming fully present. By changing breathing pattern, we can produce different states of mind, such as increasing overall energy and relaxing the body and mind. The endorphins released by the body during deep breathing also serve as a natural mood boost. These effects make deep breathing a widely used coping mechanism in managing symptoms of various mental health diagnoses.

Deep breathing does more than influence our emotional state; it can impact our physical health, as well. If you are someone who has a regular exercise/cardio routine established, you have probably realized the importance of having a close relationship with the breath. In distance running, I have learned that the more I pay attention to my breath, the more in tune I am with the rest of my body. Promoting slow, deep breaths can assist in keeping a safe pace to prevent our heart rates from climbing to dangerous BPM’s. Additionally, attention to breath can increase control and power behind movements in strength training.

As stated earlier, through deep breathing our body releases endorphins, which act as a natural pain reliever. By increasing our oxygen flow, we are also improving digestion and detoxifying our bodies through both releasing carbon dioxide and speeding up the lymphatic system. So, next time you meditate, you can visualize the release of toxins along with that negative energy that spews out with every exhale. So whether you’re stressed, overwhelmed, in physical or emotional pain, or experience a variety of physical health concerns, controlled breathing can be a step to a greater overall sense of well being.


Here are a few simple breathing exercises to get you started:

Box Breathing

This breathing technique can act as a powerful stress reliever while heightening performance and concentration.

Begin in a comfortable position. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 4 seconds. Exhale through your mouth for a count of 4 seconds. Repeat cycle as many times as needed.

Bellows Breathing

This is a rapid breathing technique aimed toward increasing energy and alertness.

Begin in a comfortable position. Inhale and exhale rapidly through your nose while keeping your mouth shut. Breaths should be as short as possible, but equal in duration. The diaphragm should move quickly. Do this for a cycle of 15 seconds, gradually increasing time with each practice. Breath normally after each cycle.

4:7:8 Breathing

This breathing technique promotes peace and tranquility. This exercise can also be used to more easily fall asleep. It may cause one to feel slightly lightheaded.

Begin in a comfortable position, keeping your back straight. With your mouth closed, quietly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Exhale through your mouth, making a whooshing sound, to the count of 8. Complete cycle 3-4 times, gradually increasing the amount of cycles with continued practice.


As always, Wellness Warriors, feel free to provide feedback and share your experiences if you choose to practice these skills. My hope is that these breathing techniques empower you to love and care for your breath while harnessing the art of controlled breathing. Until next time!