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Tips to help manage stress over the holidays

While often seen as “merry” or “joyful,” the holiday season can bring added emotional, physical or financial stress. Dr. Sean Butler at BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services shares some tips to help you through the holidays.
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​For many people, the holiday season is a time for friends, family and celebrations. But for others, December can be a time of increased pressure and anxiety, and those feelings might be more acute this season than ever before.

“This year, we are all experiencing collective stress, whether it is related to COVID-19, the toxic drug crisis, or the recent storms and floods across B.C.,” says Dr. Sean Butler of the BC Mental Health and Substance Use psychology department. 

“On top of that, each of us deals with layers of individualized stress that are unique. Mental health issues, financial pressures, the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or other pressures that come with this time of year can really take a toll on our mental health,” says Butler. 

Dr. Sean Butler.jpg“In order to get through this season as best we can, we need to respect and understand that holidays can be a stressful time, and know that we’re not alone in how we feel.” - Dr. Sean Butler

If you find the holidays difficult, or are concerned about a loved one who may be in need of support, these tips may help.

1. Stick to routine

What makes holidays challenging is that they are inherently different to other times of year. That’s why it’s important to focus on consistency as much as you can. A good idea is to consider what you usually do to stay well and think about maintaining one or two of these practices. For instance, if you know your diet will change, perhaps you can put greater emphasis on things like sleep, exercise, or being careful with substances.

2. Knowing and avoiding your triggers 

For some people, relying on willpower alone to avoid using substances can be a real challenge. Instead, be mindful of the triggers that might propel you to use substances, and avoid situations where substances are present, rather than trying to say no when they are right in front of you. This holiday season, don’t be afraid to say no to an invite if you feel a gathering or event will be triggering. 

3. Take a breather

Sometimes we find ourselves in stressful situations which we can’t avoid. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to take a breather. Focus on doing things that soothe you: take a personal time out, get some fresh air, breathe deeply or seek out someone whose company you enjoy

4. Nominate your support contact

The holidays can be lonely and it’s important that we have someone to reach out to when things get difficult. Communicating your needs clearly to a loved one and doing so well in advance is a good way to put your mind at ease and help you stay in recovery. And remember, it can work both ways; your friends and loved ones might also appreciate having reciprocal support.

5. Seek help

If you are worried about your own mental health and well-being, you can speak to your doctor or other trusted health professional. There are also several support services across B.C. that can help with mental health and substance use over the holidays.

  • 310Mental Health Support: Call 310-6789 (no area code needed) to speak to a crisis line worker 24/7. Crisis line workers listen to you and offer support with no judgement. If you need to find a program or tips for your own mental health, they can help you find them.  
  • Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) if you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide.
  • Find a walk-in clinic using HealthLink BC’s Guided Search Tool or call 8-1-1 to speak with a nurse any time of the day or night.
  • Learn more about local mental health and substance use programs from your doctor or social worker, or by visiting your local health authority's website:
  • For mental health resources for children and youth, visit the BC Children's Hospital website.
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