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How to manage mental health during the holiday season

young woman looking out snowy window
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The University of Kentucky Public Relations and Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Gopalkumar Rakesh, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2022) For many, the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of year. With work and school deadlines quickly approaching, holiday shopping expenses piling up, and back-to-back large social gatherings, this time of year can eventually take a toll on one’s mental wellness.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. In a separate study conducted by the American Psychological Association, 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season.

Increased stress can cause symptoms of physical illness, depression, loneliness and more. If you or a loved one are experiencing increased stress this year’s holiday season, here are some tips to help make your season a bit jollier.

Manage your time

Remember that your priorities still matter, and procrastination is not your friend. Putting off important projects can cause unwanted stress. Be sure to prepare ahead of time if you have important deadlines approaching to ensure that you do your best. Try making a schedule of when you will work on your projects and do your holiday prep to make sure your schedule is balanced, productive and not rushed.

Set boundaries

Communicate your limits as early as possible to friends and family so that everyone is on the same page. It is okay to say no to social obligations that may be too stressful. Choosing to set boundaries surrounding stressful conversations on topics that may be contentious in a family setting may also be advised.

Take care of yourself

The holiday season is not only about spoiling those you love but making yourself a priority as well. Fight seasonal depression by staying on top of your sleep and exercise schedule. If you can, work near a window throughout the day to get as much sunlight as possible. Even adding bright holiday lighting throughout your work or engaging with mindfulness apps on your smartphone can help boost your mood.

Seek support

Check in with a local support group or friends who understand what you may be going through. Surrounding yourself with people who feel similar can help combat feelings of loneliness.

If you or someone you know needs additional support, reach out to your therapist if you have one, talk to a mental health professional or contact your primary care physician.

Additionally, if you or a loved one are experiencing a suicidal crisis or mental distress, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) to access free and confidential support 24/7.

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