15 Ways to Cope With Mental Illness During the Holidays

5 minute read

By Christopher Brown

The holidays can be full of good, old fashioned cheer. Yet they’re often coupled with stressful social obligations and credit card debt. Fortunately, if you start a search online, you can find tips for beating the holiday season blues.

Everyone is stressed out during the holidays and, for those of us who suffer from mental illness, that strain is often magnified. Here’s how you can not only survive the holiday season, but have a merry one too!

Educate Yourself

When it comes to mental illness, education should always be the first step. A few simple keystrokes on your trusty laptop can quickly and easily connect you with a local mental health professional, a community of like-minded individuals or… ahem… a list of tips and tricks.

When suffering from a mental illness, it can feel as if you’re all alone, stranded on an island of credit card debt and eggnog. You aren’t alone. In fact, you’re far from alone. So do some research and arm yourself with some much needed perspective.

Time Management

You know what stresses me out during the holidays? The dreaded holiday schedule. Trying to manage a growing list of holiday parties, decorating, gift shopping and gift wrapping can be overwhelming if you don’t have a plan in place.

So… try putting a plan in place! Pick up a day planner (or just use the one on your phone), make a to-do list and start scheduling! Monday: shopping. Tuesday: decorating. Wednesday: more decorating. Thursday: binge-watch Christmas movies.

Spreading out your chores over a week or two can lighten your holiday load and, hopefully, your holiday list seem a little more manageable.


You look at your shopping list. You look at your bank account. You look back at your shopping list. You look to the sky.

We all want to shower our loved ones with riches during the holidays and take part in all of the various social engagements… but, you know… money. Building a holiday budget is a lot like building a holiday schedule. You start with what you can afford to spend, and divvy it up accordingly.

Don’t have a lot to spend this year? Get crafty! People really appreciate handmade items and they can be a fantastic way to stay on budget.

Keep a Journal

I know, I know. A lot of these tips can feel like homework. But nobody ever said that coping with mental illness was easy! And though it may feel like a bit of a chore, keeping a journal can be immeasurably therapeutic. Not only does it help you un-pack your complex emotions, it can also help identify your particular stress-inducing triggers.

The path to self-awareness begins with honesty. And a daily journal composed for your eyes only is truly as honest as it gets.


The holidays are all about excess… and all of that extra food and drink can really do a number on your body and mind.

Remember earlier when we discussed building a schedule? Be sure to account for a few hours of exercise a week. The science is unanimous, with many studies showing a positive link between regular exercise and strong mental health.

Feeling a little down? Nothing that a few minutes on the elliptical can’t handle.

Talk About It

It may seem scary, but opening up is a fantastic way to set boundaries and grow personal relationships. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone you trust. A friend, a family member, a mental health professional… simply putting words to your emotions can settle your nerves and help ease your mind.

And who knows? Your openness could inspire a struggling friend to do the same! You aren’t alone and help is out there if you’re courageous enough to look for it.

Distract Yourself

A great way to set your mind at ease is to get your hands moving. Do something routine, do something you love or call someone just to chat.

Personally, I find idle hands can lead to trouble. When the tension builds and the weight of the world closes in, I like to focus my attention on something simple and repetitive. Sure, it’s just a load of laundry or a stack of dishes… but you’ve accomplished something. And accomplishments feel good.

Watch What You Eat

Research suggests that your mental health is dramatically affected by your nutrition. A well-balanced diet can go a very long way in offsetting the stress of the holidays.

That being said, eating clean during the holidays is nearly impossible. Sugary treats, fatty foods, nary a vegetable in sight… the holiday buffet is a minefield. Be pro-active, manage your intake and feel better.

Have Realistic Expectations

There are a lot of “rules” when it comes to easing the burden of Mental Health. We aren’t even halfway through this list and we’ve already covered exercise, diet, time management, budgeting and more!

But managing your mental illness isn’t a job, and you don’t have to be perfect. Can’t work out 7 times a week, eat only vegetables and stay on budget every single day? Well… most of us can’t.

When setting goals, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations to avoid feelings of guilt and disappointment.

Take a Time Out

This common stress-busting strategy is another one of my personal favorites. Shopping got you down? Take a break! Holiday parties got you feeling anxious? Step outside. Feeling a little overwhelmed? Take a timeout.

You’d be surprised how relieving 5 minutes of down time during periods of heightened anxiety can be. Know your threshold, know when to push yourself and know when it’s time to take a knee.


Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s rest. Just like fruits and vegetables can be the key to a calmer mind, sleep has been shown to help combat the negative symptoms of many mental health disorders.

Fatigue can make dealing with everyday problems seemingly impossible, it can affect your overall mood, and it can lead to irrational thoughts and anxiety. Granted, struggling with mental illness can often mean struggling with sleep… but try your best to stick to maintain a reasonable sleep schedule.

Limit Alcohol and Caffeine

Excessive consumption of either of these substances has been shown to negatively impact a number of common mental health issues. For instance, alcohol has been linked to depression and memory loss in the long term and caffeine can heighten anxiety.

Know your limit, listen to your body and don’t be afraid to pass on that free drink. It may not be easy, but it is in your hands. An important thing to remember… especially at the dreaded office get-together.

Stay Positive

Now… this may sound a little counter-intuitive. How exactly can you stay positive when everything seems to be crashing down at once?

Well… the holidays, like most things, come and go. The Christmas countdown starts back up again on December 26th. You’ve gotten through it before and you’ll get through this one too. Breathe, be honest with yourself and think happy thoughts. If anyone deserves it, you do.

Know When to Make an Exit

And know when to say no! You know exactly what you are capable of and what you aren’t.

If you’re feeling a little anxious while standing in line at the department store, leave. If the holiday party is causing your heart rate to soar, call it a night. If you want to leave, leave. There’s nothing wrong with calling it quits and there is always tomorrow. Be realistic.

Seek Professional Help

Even though some days it may feel that way. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, a family member, or a professional when you need to. As for the internet? Here is a list of some online resources and more information:

Mental Health America

The National Institute of Mental Health

Christopher Brown