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Struggling mentally during the holidays? You're not alone.

64% of people living with mental illness say it’s tougher for them to cope during December. Here are five ways to help those who are struggling.
Credit: KARE 11
Managing mental illness is always challenging, and it can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. Be an ally for those who are struggling

MINNEAPOLIS — Twinkling lights. Lightly falling snow. Heartwarming family gatherings. The advertising world wants people to believe December is the most wonderful time of the year.

The holidays may indeed be magical for many. For people who live with mental illness, the holidays are anything but. According to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with mental illness say they struggle more than usual in December.  

The pandemic is also making things more challenging. The Minnesota Department of Health says more than 9,500 residents have died from the virus. That means thousands of empty chairs at holiday gatherings. A new variant of COVID-19 emerging around the globe is causing new uncertainties. Vaccine mandates, mask requirements, and changing medical guidance have stressed everyone.

Become an ally

NAMI says there are many ways for people to manage personal stress during the holidays. Their guidance also helps people become allies to those who are dealing with mental illness.

Here are five tips to consider:

  • Be patient with yourself and others. Prioritize your own mental and physical health. Eat right. Exercise as often as you can. Get enough sleep. Remember: It’s OK to say ‘no’ to invitations. 
  • Keep your expectations low. ‘Perfection’ is an unrealistic concept. Everyone struggles at one time or another. Remember: The ‘perfect’ people shown in holiday commercials are actors.
  • Let go of old traditions and create new ones. Memories are powerful. If the past is bringing you down, let it go. Take on a new activity and start fresh. Remember: Just because you’ve “always done it that way”, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it that way.
  • Have an exit plan. Family dynamics can be complex. Holiday gatherings are fun until you run into that one person or get roped into an unpleasant conversation. Before you arrive at an event, devise an ’exit plan’ so you can leave when you start to feel stressed. Remember: If you enlist a trusted friend in your exit plan, you’ll have an ally to help you leave in a graceful manner.
  • Take regular ‘nature baths’. Numerous studies show the mental health benefits of spending time in nature. Walking in the sunshine (or in brisk cold air) can be an effective centering and calming tool. Remember: Nature is nurture.

Trust the experts

You are not alone. Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota, has additional advice for surviving the holidays. Read and reflect on her latest blog post “Surviving the Holidays”  

Need help determining if you or a loved one is struggling with mental health? Check out these online assessment tools from MN Mental Health or “Healthy Days Measures” from the CDC.   

Remember: Managing mental illness is always challenging, and it can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. While the struggle can feel isolating, remember that you are far from alone.

Know Your Numbers

This information is provided by Health Fair 11 as part of its Know Your Numbers Campaign.  Health Fair 11 is a non-profit organization that operates with the support of KARE 11 TV and UCare. Learn more at www.HealthFair11.org. To find out how your organization can become an official Health Fair 11 sponsor, email healthfair@kare11.com .


Surviving the Holidays – Sue Abderholden, NAMI Minnesota  

Maintaining mental health during the holidays (and pandemic) – NAMI California

Mental Health and the Holiday Blues - National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) 

Scientific benefits of the outdoors - Business Insider  

Mental Health Online Assessment – MN Mental Health 

Healthy Days Measurement - CDC  

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