Navigating the Holidays: Prioritizing Mental Health and Reducing Stress


The holiday season is a joyful time for celebration with family and friends, but it can also bring heightened stress and challenges to one’s mental health. A national study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that more than 38 percent of those surveyed felt their stress, depression, and anxiety increased during the holiday season, and they reported more substance abuse. In addition, most recent data found that 14% of adults in Polk County had poor mental health for 14 out of 30 days compared to 13.8% in Florida. In light of these statistics, it’s vital for Polk County residents to navigate the holidays while prioritizing their mental health. Here are some strategies to help reduce stress and maintain mental well-being so that the season truly is joyful.

Take Care of Yourself

Even amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, remember to prioritize yourself. So exercise regularly, eat nutritious meals, get sufficient sleep, and limit alcohol intake. Exercise helps relieve tension and stress—you can start off small and build it up to 2 1/2 hours a week. A well-balanced diet consisting of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, as well as limiting unhealthy fats and sugars is part of taking care of your health. Go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time, as much as you’re able to during the holidays. Adults need at least seven or more hours of sleep to be well-refreshed to meet the day. Limit alcohol intake as excessive alcohol intake may exacerbate stress rather than alleviate it.

Set Realistic Expectations

One of the key aspects of navigating the holidays while considering mental health is setting realistic expectations. Communicate openly with family and friends about expectations, ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding plans and commitments. Don’t take on more than you can handle — it’s okay to delegate and ask others for help. Set realistic financial limits for gift-giving and festivities. Give yourself permission to feel however you feel, even when things aren’t perfect during the holidays — only fictional lives are perfect and happy all the time. 


Prioritize self-care and set apart some time for relaxation, recognizing that it’s okay to say no to certain activities or invitations to maintain a healthy balance. If you need time for yourself, take that time. Go for a walk or sit by yourself, if things become too overwhelming. Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are just a few relaxation techniques that might help calm in times of stress. Deep breathing involves taking slow deep breaths to reduce anxiety and return your body into a relaxed state. You can do progressive muscle relaxation by finding a quiet spot, and then slowly tensing and relaxing each muscle group in your body. You can do these practices to refocus yourself throughout the day. 

Connect With Others

“No man is an island,” as the saying goes. We need connection to thrive and connecting with other people helps us alleviate our stress. So, reach out to your support system during the holidays—don’t bottle your feelings up. Talk to those you trust about what’s bothering you. It can be a trusted friend, a family member, or your mental health professional whom you confide in. Make time for community activities or volunteering—contributing to your community is another way that reinforces that you are part of a social fabric, and that you’re not alone.

About the Author: Dr. Joy Jackson, an internal medicine physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (DOH-Polk).  For more information about DOH-Polk, visit  Follow DOH-Polk on Twitter at

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