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Keeping Your Spirits Bright This December: 5 Holiday Mental Health Pitfalls to Avoid

December is upon us, and while glowing lights, festive tunes, and feel-good movies definitely fill some of us with cheer... you might not be feeling so merry and bright. And that's pretty normal.

Between social and financial pressures, family visits, high-stakes events, and changes in routine, December can brew up a bit of a perfect storm when it comes to your mental health.

Here are five holiday mental health pitfalls you can dodge this year to keep your year-end spirits bright.

#1: Social Overwhelm

The social whirlwind that is December can stir up some social anxiety, even for extroverts. From office parties to family gatherings, our calendars definitely fill quickly this time of year. But with intention, you can prevent social overload and sail into January with your energy reserves intact.

First, take stock of your existing commitments and avoid overscheduling yourself with holiday extras. Evaluate new invites based on your anticipated or actual energy levels, not guilt or FOMO.

Give yourself permission to decline politely when you’re maxed out.

When you do say "yes," plan ahead to ensure you're able to manage your energy carefully. Map out brief breaks during long events. Set a start time and an end time so that you’re not stuck indefinitely. Bring fidget tools, headphones, or other sensory supports if they're helpful for you.

At crowded gatherings, stick to the perimeter if you're feeling overwhelmed. It's perfectly acceptable to say your quick "hello"s, and then find a quieter spot to chat with someone you know well. It's also fine to keep responses short with folks who tend to drain your energy.

At the end of holiday party season, reflect on what social activities and settings actually replenish your energy, and seek more of those out next year.

#2: Neglecting Nutrition

The holidays usually mean an abundance of "fun" foods. This year, release yourself from the guilt and shame of years past while instead making more mindful choices about properly nourishing your body amidst predictably stressful circumstances.

Variety is key. Balance holiday treats with plenty of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and whole grains. Staying hydrated is also essential to help ensure that those valuable nutrients are properly absorbed and utilized.

Listen to your body’s wisdom when hunger strikes. Opt for complex carbs to stabilize your blood sugar.

Refuel with protein-rich snacks between gatherings to maintain your energy and focus.

Approach this season’s feasts as an opportunity to truly care for your whole self. Let what makes you feel vibrant and alive guide your food choices, rather than arbitrary rules or rigid restrictions.

#3: Skimping on Self-Care

It's easy for holiday busy-ness to tank your self-care routine. Protect your wellbeing by building in some daily downtime. Even 10-15 minutes of yoga, reading, or meditation can provide a mood-boosting reset. And consistency is far more important than having the optimal conditions.

Go to bed early enough to allow 7-8 hours of sleep per night—you need it more than ever this time of year. Rest is critical for mood stabilization and focus.

Invest time in processing complicated holiday emotions through journaling.

Moving difficult feelings from your head to the page helps to relieve overwhelm.

Learn to say "no" firmly, but kindly, when you're stretched too thin to find time for yourself. You are allowed to have boundaries, even if some of your friends and family members would rather you didn't.

#4: Overindulging in Alcohol

From fireside eggnog to champagne toasts, alcohol tends to flow freely this season. And while those festive holiday drinks offer a temporary sense of relaxation, overindulgence can actually worsen depression and anxiety. It can also interfere with your ability to get a good night's sleep.

This year, try bringing more intention to your holiday alcohol consumption.

Start by assessing your drinking habits honestly.

Are you mindlessly sipping to relieve stress? Relying on liquid courage to get through uncomfortable social events? Using alcohol to numb emotions?

If you feel like your drinking is about more than simply enjoying the moment with friends, look for healthier coping strategies. Know that honest inquiry into the discomfort that leads you to overindulge is the first step toward addressing its root causes rather than just masking its symptoms.

Pace yourself at holiday gatherings, and do your best to have a glass of water between each drink. Eat before and during events that involve alcohol, and establish a maximum number of drinks for the evening.

If you're abstaining fully this season, come prepared with either your own non-alcoholic drinks or a mocktail order that will keep you from feeling deprived. Explain gently to those who inquire that abstaining is a health choice, and resist temptation to over-explain. "No, thank you" is a complete sentence.

#5: Holiday Loneliness

If you find yourself feeling isolated or lonely this time of year, know that you are not alone. Many of us carry grief, sadness, and feelings of deprivation around the holidays, especially if we are estranged or otherwise separated from family.

Rather than minimizing those feelings, get curious about them. What are your specific needs that are going unmet in this season? Are you feeling anger at a lack of support or connection from those you love? Are you longing for relationships that are no longer part of your life? Are you feeling nostalgia for your childhood or has the holiday season opened old wounds?

Naming your feelings lessens their grip on you and allows you to bring compassion to the parts of you that are hurting this time of year.

Combat isolation by sharing your feelings honestly with trusted friends. Directly ask for company if the solitude is weighing too heavily on you.

While attending holiday gatherings solo can feel awkward, spending time in community can be incredibly healing. If it's helpful to have something specific to do, offer to help the host in whatever ways you can.

If you're choosing to spend the holidays away from family, take the time to reflect on how your own celebrations can evolve to better meet your individual needs. Connecting with friends via Zoom, for example, can create a welcome sense of togetherness on a day you've traditionally associated with family. If weather permits, make plans to spend some time in nature for a holiday mood and energy boost. Create new traditions just for you that are aligned with your values and preferences.

The holiday season will always carry with it some busy-ness and chaos, but being aware of common mental health pitfalls means you can take steps to avoid them this year. As the end of the year approaches, consider which boundaries and self-care activities are working well for you and double down on them. With intention, care, and self-compassion, you can sail into the new year centered and ready for your next chapter.

Need some help making changes in your life to support your mental health? The holiday season is a perfect time for introspection and planning ahead of the new year. A 30-minute free consultation is a great way to explore some ideas and see if I might be the right coach for you.


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.


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