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  • Writer's pictureLehandra Riley

Harmonious Holidays: Navigating Emotional Well-being Through Mindful Celebration

As the year draws to a close and festive decorations adorn every corner, there's an unspoken expectation that the holiday season should be a time of unbridled joy. However, beneath the surface of the glittering lights and cheerful carols, the end-of-year holidays can cast a complex shadow on mental health. In this article, we'll delve into a unique angle, exploring the intricate interplay between psychological well-being and the holiday season.

Unwrapping the Emotional Layers

The holiday season often acts as a magnifying glass, intensifying a spectrum of emotions. From the elation of reunions to the weight of expectations and the nostalgia of year-end reflections, we may find ourselves navigating a rollercoaster of feelings. By understanding the emotional layers at play, we can begin to unravel the intricate tapestry of mental well-being during this time.

The holidays are usually viewed as a time of rejoicing, happiness, and celebration. However, this is not the case for all. For some this time of year can be a period of painful reflection, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, and depression. When we experience feelings of sadness that last throughout the holiday season, especially during the months of November and December, it is often referred to as the holiday blues or holiday depression.

What causes holiday blues?

There are a variety of reasons why people experience holiday blues. Typical reasons of holiday sadness include:

  • Stress and burnout

  • Financial pressure or stress

  • Unrealistic expectations

  • Societal expectations and pressure

  • Isolation and loneliness

  • The inability to be with loved ones.

It is important to remember that sadness is a uniquely subjective and personal experience. Even those who usually love holidays can experience the blues during this bustling season. The holidays are often a time with high emotional demands. This can leave a lot of people feeling stressed and exhausted.

Who is usually more susceptible to the holiday blues?

Those with an existing mental health condition may be more prone to experiencing holiday depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 64% of people who have an existing mental illness find that the holidays make their condition worse. Furthermore, balancing the demands of shopping, family obligations and gatherings, parties and house guests may contribute to increased tension and overwhelmed feelings. Even people who do not see themselves as depressed may develop stress responses such as:

  • Headaches

  • Overindulging in the form of excessive drinking and over-eating

  • Insomnia

  • Moodiness

  • Unusual fatigue

What are the symptoms of holiday blues?

Holiday blues comprise a variety of symptoms. The most common symptoms to look out for are:

  • Changes in weight and appetite

  • Changes in sleep patterns

  • Difficulty with concentration

  • Feeling down and irritable

  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

  • Feelings of weariness

  • Feelings of tension, worry and anxiety

  • Feelings of anhedonia

Some may also experience post-holiday sadness after New Year’s Day. This can be caused from built-up expectations and disappointments from the previous year combined with stress and fatigue.

The Pressure to be Merry

The expectation to be jolly and full of holiday cheer can inadvertently create a pressure cooker for individuals grappling with mental health challenges.

When it comes to the pressures of being merry and jolly during the holiday season a certain meme comes to mind:


As much as this meme may give us a giggle as we share its universal message it sums up what it is like when we just want to be and then suddenly, we feel the pressures from those around us to suddenly be merry and bright.

Not only is this an unrealistic expectation, but also an inconsiderate one. During silly season many of us find ourselves exhausted from the responsibilities and tasks we had to complete during the course of the year. Many parents are exhausted from helping their children complete their final exams and from going through the university application process or arrangements for the following year. Parents also tend to feel very overwhelmed this time of year as they must manage their children full time, while trying to catch a break.

On top of that the shops are extremely busy as Christmas shopping gets under way and you might sit with a house full of guests for an extended stay as they travel from far and wide. No wonder the symptoms of holiday blues start creeping up on us.

Societal expectations surrounding the holidays can therefore not only impact our mental health, but also our self-esteem. It is therefore important to nurture ourselves. We can do this by fostering self-compassion and embracing our unique emotional journey during this season.

Reimagining Traditions for Mental Wellness Rather than adhering rigidly to societal norms, we can reimagine holiday traditions through the lens of mental wellness. It can be helpful to explore creative ways in celebrating the holiday season that align with individual needs. It is also important to do our holiday planning, with our wellness and mental health in mind.

Here are some interesting tips and ideas to help curb the holiday blues:

  • Be mindful and Fact-Check your Worry Many of us strive for perfection during the holiday season, however it is important to release ourselves from the unrealistic and impossible goals we set for ourselves. The constant worry in striving to achieving impossible goals can distract and derail us from enjoying the things we really enjoy during this time. Give yourself permission to let go and let things happen. Remind yourself that your best is good enough.

  • Don't follow a script. Just be. When looking back at our most cherished moments from past holiday seasons no one was following a set list or organised expectation. Rather they gave into the spontaneity of the moment and had unbridled fun. Authentic connection through spending time with our loved ones is what this time of year is all about. Allow things to organically evolve. Balance great plans and ideas with flexibility and spontaneity. It makes a difference when we are open to what might happen as it opens the door to amazing possibilities.

  • Let Mistakes become New Traditions Forgot to bring something to the Christmas braai? Left a gift at home by mistake? It happens to the best of us. During these faux pas moments, it is important to not lose sight of the true spirit of the holidays; being with family. These challenges are problem solving opportunities that leave room for humour and teamwork to help find solutions. Even if no solution can be found it is about the journey, not the destination. A laugh and a unique memory can be found in even the wackiest of blunders. Remember this time is called silly season for a reason.

  • Pace Yourself and Pencil in some Downtime With all the plans and activities we plan for the holidays we often forget to schedule downtime for ourselves. Before we know it, the New Year is upon us with only exhaustion left. To remedy this it is important to reserve some time just for us to potato. Netflix and chill can be a wonderful thing! Especially during the holidays. Remember our time off is precious, it is not selfish to use some of that time on yourself too.

  • Find Joy: Savour the Moment Joy seems to be an elusive mistress during overwhelming times. However, she can show herself during small moments in time. You see a flash of her when a loved one has a sparkle in their eye as they unwrap that special gift you took such care in selecting. She winks at you when your guests stop talking and savour the delicious meal you have prepared. You feel her embrace when everyone sits together and just enjoys each other’s company. Joy does not have to be flashy and complicated. She is simple and always adorned with love and humility. When we find glimpses of her our worry tends to quietly slip away.

  • Turn your Focus Outward: Lend a Hand When we feel anxious and worried, our focus is turned inward. That ever-present bully in our heads often parrots words of discouragement and make us feel as if we are falling short. To show that inner bully who is boss it helps to disengage from it and shine a spotlight on those around us. We can volunteer and contribute where we can by donating supplies and our time. Many families are in great need during this time of year. Donating some unwanted clutter can brighten someone’s day and perhaps make their Christmas wish come true. We can volunteer our time by lending a hand at the local homeless or animal shelter.

The Gift of Self-Care Self-care is probably one of the most important and special gifts you can give yourself. It is not a luxury, but essential to us and our wellbeing. In the spirit of giving give yourself the gift of self-care.

 Here are some Holiday Self-Care suggestions to help keep the holiday blues at bay:

  • Express Yourself, Let it out The holidays can often bring up discomfort, worry and baggage. Allow yourself to express those emotions and feelings. You may be struggling with grief, difficult family members or your overall mental health. Check in with a trusted friend or counsellor who can provide a safe space to vent and offer a sounding board. Writing and journalling can be a useful alternative, along with creative expressions such as music or art. Find a method that works for you.

  • Make Healthy Choices as much as possible As much as the holidays can inspire indulgence and pure enjoyment, it is important to make good choices for yourself. Excessive eating and drinking can ultimately catch up with us and our bodies will let us know about it. Drink that cocktail, eat that Christmas cookie, however, remember moderation is key.

  • No is an option During the holiday season it is important to remind ourselves that boundaries and assertiveness are not the absence of kindness, but indeed a kindness to self. Give yourself permission to engage with things that bring you peace and joy, while asserting your boundaries for things that go against your values and wellbeing. We can all celebrate the holidays in a balanced way without burning ourselves out from all the people pleasing. Remember pleasing goes both ways. Include yourself on that list.

  • Back to basics Remember to nourish your body and mind by staying active, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, taking your vitamins, and feeding yourself nutritious food. As simple as the aforementioned points are, many people let them fall by the wayside, especially during the course of the busy year. Therefore, the holiday time is as good as any to reinstate and take stock of these basic needs. Include Maslow’s pyramid of needs in your self-care holiday box.

  • Remember to breathe... When all else fails return to the breath. Just breathe. In for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds and release for 5 seconds. Do this as long as needed. Close your eyes or fix your eyes on a focal point. This will help you return to the moment. We are alive and breathing. Being alive is a beautiful gift. Embrace it. You are here. You matter.

  • Treat yourself Do something special for yourself. Reward yourself for all the hard work you did throughout the year. We often seek validation and acknowledgement from others that we forget the most important person of all…ourselves. We need to celebrate and honour ourselves. Often other people may disappoint us and come up short when it comes to our expectations of them. In those times we need to remind ourselves that we are proud of ourselves regardless of what other people think of us. Remember, you are good enough.

That’s a wrap…

In reimagining the holiday narrative from a wellness perspective, we empower ourselves to approach the end of the year with a newfound understanding of our emotional landscape. By embracing the nuances of mental health during the holidays, we can foster a more compassionate and inclusive celebration—one that prioritises the well-being of every individual, ensuring that the season truly becomes a time of reflection, connection, and personal growth.

Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones!



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