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mental illness
Christmas stress - busy woman wearing santa hat stressing for christmas shopping holding may christmas gifts in her arms. Funny image of multiracial Asian Caucasian female model isolated on white background.

How to Protect Your Mental Health This Holiday Season

Photography Provided

While the holidays are an exciting time filled with fun festivities, they can also bring on stress, anxiety and depression. The pressure to plan the perfect holiday party, buy the perfect gifts, be around family and have a full calendar are a few reasons your holidays may feel stressful instead of joyful. 


Taking a couple of minutes every day to sit still and be mindful of your state and emotions can dramatically decrease stress and anxiety. When you find yourself overwhelmed, use the 4-2-6 breathing technique. Breathe in through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 2 counts, and exhale through your mouth for 6 counts. Repeat this method for a few minutes until you feel calmer. Some individuals find journaling and setting aside time for gratitude to be therapeutic. 


Moving your body helps to improve your mood by releasing endorphins. During this stressful season, make time for physical exercise to reduce stress and take care of your body. Simple exercises to incorporate into your daily routine can include walking in nature, taking a hike with loved ones, and playing a sport you love. Being outdoors can be tricky in the winter months, but bundling up and setting aside a few moments for vitamin D will be worth it. 

Realistic Expectations

The holidays come with many expectations for yourself and from others. Setting realistic goals for yourself will set you up for success and help you be in control of your holiday season. Make your goals fit into your life, not the other way around.

Seek Help

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, about one in five Americans were affected by anxiety. Now more than ever, and especially during the holidays, there’s a heightened sense of awareness to the mental health concerns many are facing due to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Consider seeking help from a mental health professional if you notice your mental health interfering with your ability to do daily tasks of self-care, or if you’re seeing significant changes in your behavior related to your usual routine. 

There are many resources for help. The best place to start is with your primary care provider, who can provide a referral to a mental health professional. Depending on the type of support you need, you may be guided to virtual support platforms or to the right kind of care for your need. 

Trisha Palencer is a licensed clinical social worker and director of the Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center at IU Health West Hospital.

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