Columns | Northwest Herald

Guest column: Tips and techniques to cope with holiday blues

During the holiday season, we look forward to festivities with friends and family. But for many, there will be times that can bring on or worsen stress, anxiety and depression.

“Happy” holidays may be illusive.

If you struggle to feel “happy” during the season, you are not alone. Explore one of the excellent programs to connect with others to share time and experiences.

The McHenry County Mental Health Board has many network partners that offer events, often at no cost. Visit and use the search box with words such as grief, depression, holiday blues, anxiety, etc.

Help yourself and your loved ones by trying proven techniques that may bring comfort and even a little joy.

There are a variety of factors that can bring on holiday anxiety and depression, including financial burdens; overwhelming schedules; and high expectations of perfection in gifts, parties and our own performance.

And then there is grief brought about when we focus on memories and losses.

If you’re experiencing any of these challenges, here are some coping tips.

  • Although the holiday season can be overwhelmingly busy, keep your routines, self-care and therapy sessions. The holidays can bring up difficult emotions. Allow time to process and explore anything that occurs. Take time for yourself during the holidays and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Whether it’s reading a book, taking a long bath, going for a walk in nature, or pursuing a hobby, prioritize self-care to rejuvenate your mind and body.
  • In addition to professional mental health care, mindfulness can be a valuable mental wellness tool. Certain practices can be particularly helpful if you are traveling or on an unusual schedule.
  • Avoid using drugs and alcohol for comfort. Although the prospect of escape can be appealing, substance use can ultimately worsen your issues. There is a 20% overlap between people with anxiety or mood disorders and substance use disorders, and substances can exacerbate symptoms. When you feel you need a relaxation aid, you can instead turn to a mindfulness tactic or other healthy coping mechanism.
  • Some struggle with depression during the winter months due to shortened daylight. Exposure to bright lights, including fluorescent lights, can help ease symptoms. Even for those without depression, walking outside in the sun can be effective for body-centering and calming. Numerous studies have pointed to the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, including stress relief, better concentration, lower levels of inflammation and improved mental energy.
  • Another major source of anxiety, stress and depression around the holidays can be examining accomplishments from the past year. Some may experience negative feelings over not being at a place they feel they “should be” in life. Get yourself out of this space by adjusting expectations and setting realistic goals. Prioritize meaningful experiences and activities that bring you happiness rather than trying to meet societal expectations.
  • One of the most fulfilling ways to overcome the holiday blues is by helping others. Consider volunteering at a local charity, donating to a cause you care about or simply performing small acts of kindness. Bringing joy to others can create a sense of fulfillment within yourself.
  • Take time to reflect on the positive aspects of the holiday season and practice gratitude. Write down or share with others what you are grateful for, the lessons you’ve learned, and the memories you’ve created. Focusing on the positives can help shift your mindset and emphasize the beauty of the season.
  • Reach out to those family and friends who are positive forces in your life, either in person or through video calls, and spend quality time together. Sharing laughter, memories and stories can help lift your spirits and remind you of the joyous moments.
  • Supporting mental wellness is an ongoing challenge, but it can be particularly difficult during the holiday season. Although the struggle can feel isolating, remember that you are far from alone. Seek help from professional mental health services, maintain your self-care routines, and include mindfulness and gratitude practices into your days as you approach 2024.

Remember, it’s normal to feel a bit down during the holidays, but with these strategies, you can overcome the blues and end the season on a positive note.

Need to talk to someone during the holidays? Download the MCHELP app to access support by mental health professionals 24/7 via voice or text as well as full access to McHenry County Mental Health Board network partners.

In crisis? Dial 988. Discover more than 70 network partners and local support at

Leonetta Rizzi is executive director of the McHenry County Mental Health Board.