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Mental Health Resources for the Holidays

Mental Health Resources for the Holidays
Appears to be father giving son a hug


The winter holiday season can be a festive, joyful time, but holidays can also bring up big feelings for adults and young people alike. 

We all have our own personal history with holidays. Many have lost loved ones, particularly over the past three years of the pandemic and may be experiencing grief or trauma in different ways. A holiday or seasonal tradition can act as a trigger or intensify emotions.

Other people may suffer from stress, seasonal affective disorder, other mental health challenges or loneliness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness noted that 64% of individuals living with a mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays. 

For young people, the changes in routine, new people, and different foods can be stressful. For adults, there are financial worries, family conflicts, work and life burnout, dealing with crowded stores and shortages, and preconceived ideas of what the holidays should be like.  

Signs a Friend or Child is Struggling

Some shared signs and symptoms for youth and adults include:

  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless or worthless
  • Loss of interest or withdrawal from others
  • Changes in sleep patterns or energy levels 
  • Feeling moody or anxious 

These can be signs of a mental health disorder when it affects a person’s ability to work or attend school, carry out daily activities, or engage in satisfying relationships.

Ways to Help

SDCOE’s Student Wellness and School Culture team suggests these ways to help someone who may be struggling this holiday season: 

  • Remain present for them at each stage and allow them to tell you where they are and what they need
  • Acknowledge emotions without judgment
  • Remind them it is OK to feel sad and show grief
  • Encourage them to take care of their body’s core needs, such as drinking water, eating, and sleeping
  • Check in regularly and over time
  • Model and encourage healthy routines and creative outlets

Memorializing is a part of healing and there are many ways to preserve a connection with a lost loved one. Displaying a favorite photo, telling a story about the person, creating an altar at home, cherishing a keepsake item, or maintaining a shared hobby are all healthy ways to cope with grief.

Woman side hugs boy smiling

Support For Students Who Are Grieving

The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement article Grief Over the Holidays: Educators Can Help Students Cope describes why and how educators can reach out to students who are grieving. What a child may have felt last year could be different from this year. Grief evolves, which is why it’s important educators and family members ask questions and listen with presence and patience.

Tips for Reaching Out to Young People

  • Ask open-ended questions 
  • Accept expressions of emotion without judgment, minimizing feelings, or trying to put a positive spin on it
  • Connect with students at school events where a loved one’s absence may be especially noticeable
  • Introduce class activities in a way that acknowledges absences and offers alternatives
  • Lead class discussions about holiday stories and experiences with sensitivity to potentially triggering topics or discussions 
  • Consider reaching out after class to see how a grieving student is doing

Additional Resources

Young girl reads a book with father

Taking Care of Yourself Over the Holidays

The holidays can get overwhelming and stressful for even the most prepared. Taking time to take care of yourself early and often can be the best gift you can give.

  • Be realistic with your time and plan ahead. It’s OK to say no, change your mind about plans, or cut down on the to-do list, even if it’s tradition. Read more from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • Manage your stress. Give yourself a break if you feel stressed out, overwhelmed, and out of control. Some of the best ways to manage stress are to find support, connect socially, and get plenty of sleep. Read more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Be good to yourself. It’s easy to be critical and judgmental, instead, set an intention to be loving and accepting of yourself. Take time to recognize when you’ve done something well, and acknowledge you deserve to be happy. Read more from Psychology Today's 9 Keys to a Resilient Holiday.
  • Ask for help if you need it. If you are feeling especially sad, stressed, anxious or depressed, ask for help. Talk to someone you trust, a mental health professional or a primary care physician for guidance and support. Read more from Mental Health First Aid
  • Breathe. Feeling overwhelmed or under pressure? Take a few deep breaths. Notice and be intentional with your breath with thoughts such as, “I'm going to breathe in peace and breathe out anxiety.” You can also be intentional and mindful of your desire to treat others with value by focusing on your breathing. 


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