Four Ways To Improve Your Mental Health During the Holidays

There’s lots to love about the holidays, including delicious food, parties, decorations, snow, the anticipation of giving and receiving gifts, and the opportunity to make new memories with family and friends.

Unfortunately, there are other dynamics of this season that can cause an increase in depression and stress -- including Seasonal Affective Disorder due to the shorter length of daylight, the stress of longer to-do lists, associations with negative memories, traveling snafus, the interruption of your usual routine, as well as unhealthy eating and drinking.

We want you experience as much joy as possible this holiday season, so we compiled our favorite tips for how to stay mentally healthy during the holidays.

1) Find meaningful connection.

           Feelings of isolation and loneliness can intensify during the holiday season.  Whether it’s because of unmet expectations, memories of a lost loved one, difficult family relationships or a work schedule that prevents you from going home for the holidays, feeling unconnected can lead to higher rates of anxiety, insomnia and depression.  To improve your quality of life this season, find connection by spending time with people who care about you, doing group activities, or being loved on by a furry friend.  

2) Reconsider social media.

           The latest research has shown that people who spend a lot of time on social media experience higher rates of dissatisfaction with their life, mostly because we tend to compare our experiences and accomplishments to others.  During the holidays, there are even more comparisons to draw!  If you don’t have a perfectly-decorated 10-foot Christmas tree or a picture-perfect turkey or a winter wonderland vacation or a storybook Christmas Eve engagement, it can make you feel dissatisfied or insecure when you compare yourself to others who do.  Cutting back on the amount of time you spend on social media this season could very well boost your mental health and enhance the joy you feel as you celebrate the holidays in your own style.      

3) Make time for self-care.

             Extra activities can make the holidays special.  But in the chaos of office parties, school concerts, gift shopping and traveling, it can be easy to put everyone else’s needs before your own.  By carving out time to do self care -- getting a massage, finding a quiet place to meditate, journaling or taking your favorite spin class -- you’ll lower your stress levels and be able to enjoy time with family and friends as a healthy version of yourself!

4) Simplify your celebrations.

            Ok, it might be nice to have a Pinterest-perfect holiday complete with handmade pies, homemade cookies, elaborate decorations and flawlessly-wrapped presents.  But the pressure of perfection can cause increased stress, diminished self esteem and disappointment, which will all get in the way of you experiencing the love, joy and peace the holidays celebrate.  By lowering your expectations, simplifying your plans, and giving yourself permission to relax, you’ll have more time and energy to celebrate the season in a way that’s meaningful for you!     

We want you to feel well this winter!  If you’re dealing with anxiety, stress or depression, please reach out to us or a qualified mental health professional for help. We’re here 7 days a week to take care of you!

Sarah Thebarge MMSc, PA-C Sarah Thebarge earned her physician assistant degree at Yale School of Medicine, and then studied journalism at Columbia School of Journalism. She has been a physician assistant and a freelance journalist since 2004. In addition to caring for patients at Golden Gate Urgent Care, Sarah frequently volunteers her medical skills in the developing world. Her writing has appeared in Huffington Post, USA Today and National Geographic, and her blog was featured on She is the author of the memoir The Invisible Girls and the upcoming book WELL: Healing our Beautiful, Broken World from a Hospital in West Africa. She currently lives in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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