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Published on November 26, 2014

Tips for Good Mental Health During the Holidays

SIOUX FALLS (Dec. 1, 2014) – You hear it everywhere: “Happy holidays! Season’s greetings! Merry Christmas!” Yet stress or emotional pain may leave you feeling that the holidays are anything but jolly.

Some people are dealing with family conflict that keeps them from wanting to go home for the holidays. Others are staring at an empty chair, due to death, divorce, or the fact that a loved one is deployed in the military. Still others are stressed about having the perfect table setting, the perfect decorations, or the perfect gifts under the tree.

How do you cope with all the hype and buildup?

Mary Ellen Smith, LPC-MH, Counselor with Avera Behavioral Health Outpatient Services, advises women to manage expectations. “Holiday preparations can become more like work than looking forward to gathering with family and friends,” she said. “Society puts a lot of pressure on us to create a Hallmark holiday, when we can’t live up to the expectations, and really no one can.”

Are there things you can cross off your list, and no one would mind? “If you feel like you have to do something, maybe that’s not such a good reason,” Smith said. Don’t try to do it all, and ask for help.

Remember to take care of yourself. “Don’t deprive yourself of sleep, healthy meals or exercise,” Smith said.

If going home for the holidays will mean dealing with unresolved family conflict, come up with a plan. “First, you need to decide if you are emotionally able to go,” Smith said. “Maybe it’s OK not to.”

If you have decided to go, then plan ahead when to arrive and when to leave. Have an “escape plan” in mind to either go home early or at least get out of the house. “Plan to surround yourself with positive people and stay close to them,” Smith suggested. If your conflict is reconciled over the holidays, that’s wonderful. But don’t put pressure on yourself to make it happen. “It might not even be possible, and you could set yourself up for a huge disappointment,” Smith said.

If there’s been a loss in your family, give yourself and others permission to be sad. “Realize that the holidays this year will be different. Maybe it would be too difficult to go through the same traditions. Maybe it’s a year to do something different – go on a trip, volunteer, or just have a quiet, relaxing, simple day.”

Remember that a holiday is just one day. “Our society has us building up for it from early October on through January,” Smith said. “That day can mean whatever you want it to mean.”

Beware of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as too much alcohol or food intake, or abuse of prescription or illicit drugs.

If you deal with depression or anxiety or another mental health condition, don’t pretend it isn’t there. “Hook into a support resource, whether that’s friends, family, a support group or counselor,” Smith said. “And remember that substances, other than your prescribed medications, will only add to the depression and anxiety.”

As you’re doing special things for others to make their season bright, put yourself on the list, too.

Give yourself a gift of whatever brings you joy or peace. “Read a book, take a day off or take a nap. Spend time with people who are important to you. Get involved in activities that help you define what the holidays are all about for you.”

To learn more about behavioral health resources, go to

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