Latter-day Saint Life

When the Holidays Don't Bring Cheer: Family Counselor on How Individuals and Loved Ones Can Manage Mental Illness at Christmas


For many people the Christmas season is exciting and enjoyable as individuals engage in the hustle and bustle of varied festivities, and this is how we hope and want it to be. However, for some the Christmas season increases stress and can amplify feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, loneliness, hopelessness, and even feelings of suicide. Oftentimes it is hard for those who do not deal with mental health struggles to comprehend why a time of year that is supposed to be uplifting and fun can be dark and empty for many. 

There are simple and complicated reasons for this. For many who live alone or who are far away from family, the Christmas season may intensify loneliness as they observe others gathering their loved ones around them and know they cannot do the same. For others, the Christmas season may increase stress as they feel limited in their financial ability to provide gifts, foods, and items so needed and wanted by their family. Others who already experience depression and/or anxiety may find increased symptoms due to changes in the weather, environment, and stress levels.

For some, the Christmas season, instead of being uplifting and fun, can be a reminder of all that they feel is wrong in their lives. Such feelings can then increase the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation. For a few, the Christmas season is a reminder of perceived personal failures.

How Loved Ones Can Help

Most, if not all, of us know individuals who have been or are affected in negative ways by the holidays and wonder what can we do to help. In most cases, the best type of help that can be offered is to be observant and to take time to listen. Allowing those who struggle during the holiday season to share their feelings can decrease loneliness, help them feel understood, and decrease stress as well as negative thoughts. Taking the time to invite those we know who are alone for the season to join in our family and friend activities can help decrease loneliness and help them feel wanted and needed.

Taking time to help create a plan with those who deal with depression and anxiety on a daily basis prior to the holiday season can help these individuals maintain stabilization during the holiday season. When possible, helping those who cannot provide Christmas for their own family to do so can be a great relief.

Help for Those Who Can't Find Cheer During the Holidays

For those who are alone and/or feel that they do not have a support system, finding ways to navigate the stress of the holidays can be complicated and difficult. Often those who feel alone, instead of reaching out for help find it easier and less uncomfortable to turn inward and away from those around them. Such shutting down tends to increase feelings of depression and anxiety. If you find yourself alone or in a situation where you feel you do not have a support system, it is important to plan simple activities you can be involved in. For example:

  • talk to those around you that you do not know
  • hang out at local social places which allow for noise and potential interaction
  • attend free community activities or religious services where others are gathered
  • be willing to visit mental health professionals who can listen and help offer encouragement and connection with local services
  • arrange to make phone calls to those in the past who have been there to help you

Most importantly, tell those who are in a position to help you what you are dealing with. So often when individuals talk about their feelings of depression, anxiety, or even suicide those feelings can be lifted and feel more manageable. Take time to treat yourself to something you really enjoy such as a nice cup of herbal tea, a movie, and/or a visit to a place which brings you comfort. Taking time to serve others around you can also help to lift feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Be willing to ask others to join you, to ask others to spend time with you. So often we think, “Oh, they are too busy with their family or their friends and would not want to be with me,” when in reality if they knew they were needed they would be willing and so open to help. Most people are willing to help if they just know they are needed.
The holiday season can be less stressful for all of us when we step back from the hustle and bustle of the process and remember that the Christmas season is not about packages and turkeys but the birth of a Babe born in the most humble of circumstances, who during His adult life experienced loneliness, betrayal, disappointment, and loss that He might offer all of us comfort and understanding. It is He who offers to all of us love, acceptance, truth, empathy, compassion, and the strength to hold on even when the night is dark.

 All of this He freely offers as He leads and guides others to be His hands, His listening ears, His voice of compassion and understanding, and His feet to cross lonely thresholds.

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