Mental health problems are normal during the holidays, says a mainstream therapist

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

Despite the Christmas lights, carols and food, sometimes there is someone who doesn’t feel like participating much, singing, receiving or giving 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 by Colorful Resiliencea Massachusetts-based mental health service.

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 tend to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. Some of these include feeling faint, heavy breathing, sadness, constant crying, or avoiding meeting other people.

According to a 2019 study by the American Psychological Association45% of Americans prefer to skip the holidays to avoid stress.

Diaz said one of the best things to do to deal with these mental health challenges during the holidays is to talk about them. But she acknowledged 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?

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

Take some time to breathe

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

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

Diaz says this can help you be more present each day and deal with all the December and Christmas-related activities you might take on, she explains.

Write what you are grateful for

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

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

Awaken your five senses

One 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 the details or what’s around them, so awakening the five senses helps you relax and focus more on the body.

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

Discover your relaxation technique

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

Embrace every type of feeling

Diaz said any feeling is normal during the holidays and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. We’re not the only ones who feel this way, so it’s important to acknowledge that feeling and embrace 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. Also, if we witness a person, 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 the right moment to do so. There are certain boundaries and there may be a chance that the person may not feel comfortable talking about everything. For example, a family dinner is not a good time to ask someone what’s going on.

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

Contact any member of Color fastness for support or call 988.

Some mental health resources and contact information:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (also known as the Treatment Referral Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, toll-free, 24-hour, 365-day-a-year information service in English and Spanish for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local health facilities, support groups and community 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/Alatin Family Group Headquarters; 1-800-344-2666; provides information about Al-Anon/Alateen and recommendations for local meetings.

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

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

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

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