The holidays are almost here, and for many of us, that means our stress levels will go up.

According to a 2015 survey by Healthline, a health information website, more than 60 percent of people feel some level of stress during the holidays. For some people, depression and anxiety increase as well.

There might be numerous reasons for the stress. It might be having more to do and less time. It might be financial stress; a lot of people feel obligated to give gifts that they can’t always afford. Or it might be family related. Perhaps you don’t get along with someone very well or there are other tensions, and the holidays only highlight that. Family dynamics can be quite complicated.

Whatever the reason for increased stress, here are some mental health care tips to get you through the holiday season:

Take a breather

When the pressure is on, sometimes the best way to deal is to take a break. Everyone has a different way of doing this; maybe you need a nap or a Netflix binge session. Or maybe you need to take a walk or go to the gym. Research is now proving the effectiveness of yoga and meditation for anxiety and depression, so those are good approaches as well.

Check your head

In a TEDGlobal talk in 2013, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal said stress is not necessarily the enemy people think it is. She said science actually shows what you believe about stress’s impact on your health has more of a negative impact on your body than stress itself. If people think of stress as helpful, signs of anxiety preparing you for a challenge, then the stress actually did not harm their bodies, she said, citing a Harvard study.

Connect with your loved ones

McGonigal also said in the same talk “stress makes you social.” It leads you to crave contact with friends and family. When you feel stressed, she said, your pituitary gland pumps out oxytocin, which makes you want to do connect with your loved ones. This hormone makes you more empathetic and compassionate, she said. And, perhaps most importantly, it increases your drive to tell someone how you feel rather than staying silent. So the next time you’re stressed, it might be your body’s way of urging you to connect with friends and family and talk about how you’re feeling.

Set some boundaries

Although it’s challenging, you might need to set some boundaries during the holiday season. Don’t overdo the gifts; only spend within budget. If someone asks you to do or spend more than you can, be honest and say what you can realistically do. If your family is driving you crazy, try to set aside differences and focus on your common ground.

For example, don’t get into a deep political discussion if it’s likely to ruin the day. Find what you’re both interested in or looking forward to: How delicious the pumpkin pie is, how funny that yule log video can be, how much you love or hate winter. In some cases, if a family member is a bully or someone you cannot get along with, distance can be healthy. You have to decide what’s right for you and the situation. Set the boundaries where appropriate.

Get a good therapist

Seeing a therapist can be absolutely amazing. Sometimes it’s the only answer. If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, stressed or emotional, you might want to talk it out with a professional. Talking about how you feel can be helpful. And a new perspective is sometimes just what you need to navigate a tough situation. There’s no shame in admitting when you can’t do it all or need help. Sometimes the strongest people are the ones who reach out for help when they need it.

Mind Over Matter is a column about mental health by reporter Britt Johnsen. To submit ideas, send them to or call (952) 345-6381.


Britt Johnsen is a Savage reporter who loves in-depth reporting and bringing more heart and soul to the paper. Britt is thoughtful, hard-working and an “introverted extrovert.” She loves her two cats, yoga, poetry and snobby Minneapolis coffee.