The year is winding down, the calendar is filling up with activities and get-togethers, and items on the to-do list are mounting. Nearly half of Americans say they feel more stress and anxiety during the holiday season than any other time of year. Additionally, 41% feel depression symptoms arise.

While the holidays can be a wonderful time of year, it can also bring specific mental health triggers. For some, it’s too much of a good thing — many gatherings of friends and family, too many presents and special treats to buy. For others, this time of year is a reminder of things lost or voids in their life.

Let’s consider some typical triggers during the holiday season and what to do about them.

Too much to do

The holiday season brings kids’ plays, community and religious activities, work parties, family reunions, gatherings with friends, shopping and errands, travel and many more commitments. It’s also likely that you’re looking to uphold a multitude of traditions. Simply put, you have too much to do in too little time, and you’re maxed out.

It’s time to take control of your schedule. We cannot be everything to everyone all the time. Spreading yourself too thin — even with good intent — can cause stress. While stress can wreak havoc on your mental health and relationships, it can also cause short- and long-term negative physical symptoms including headaches, insomnia and even chest pains and high blood pressure.

Before the holiday season begins, try to fill out a calendar with the activities and traditions you want and expect to do during the holiday season. Make a list of activities you are still considering. This can help you visualize what you can feasibly handle. The hardest part comes next — saying “no” to the activities you can’t or do not want to take on.

Consider this: Is there a way to attend or carry out the activity but shorten the amount of time or the prep you have to do for it? If the answer is no, compassionately but clearly explain that you are unable to do an activity. Whether with your community, family or work, you don’t owe a long explanation. Set your boundary, compassionately explain that you understand if someone is feeling upset when they receive your news but that you need to stick to your boundary.

Whether you’re looking to improve your short- or long-term mental health, Heart of Iowa Community Services (HICS) can help.

Grief and loneliness

Feelings of loss can be especially heightened during the holiday season as you remember special moments from years past and carry on traditions without loved ones. In fact, at least 35% of Americans say grief over a lost loved one causes them to not want to celebrate holidays. Additionally, many Americans feel more isolated than ever during the holiday season, whether travel is an issue, they feel alienated from friends and family because of their lifestyle or beliefs, etc.

While it’s easy to self-isolate, it's important to not let grief and loneliness consume you. Be intentional about creating a new tradition or trying a new activity. It’s also a good idea to ask a friend or family member to check in on you to combat any self-isolation.

If you’re dealing with grief, loneliness, depression or self-isolation, know that you’re not alone. HICS can connect you to mental health professionals close to home who can help build coping skills and offer compassionate care.

Health and ability concerns

Travel, large gatherings, poor weather — all can create issues for people with health concerns and those living with disabilities. Those with increased health risk may worry about contracting illnesses while traveling or at gatherings, especially in light of the pandemic. Nearly 40% of Americans are concerned about the spread of the COVID-19 virus at holiday gatherings, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s 2021 Holiday Stress poll.

People with disabilities may also find travel and all the variables that come with it particularly challenging. When they get to their destination, there can still be many unknowns, weariness about asking for or explaining a necessary accommodation and other issues.

It’s important that individuals with health concerns or people with disabilities should never to be concerned about asking for an accommodation and double-checking that their needs will be met. Those who love you want to make sure you’re safe and comfortable, so receiving clear expectations will likely be a relief. For those who are traveling with or hosting someone with extenuating health circumstances or a disability, ask ahead of time what would make them most comfortable and safe. By showing you care enough to make a plan, everyone will have a happier holiday.

HICS is passionate about ensuring those of all abilities thrive. If you’re looking to improve your quality of life, we can help.

Financial pressure

With higher heating bills, increased grocery costs and additional expenses for holiday gifts and activities, financial stress can mount. More than 45% of Americans stress about affording holiday gifts, and more than 40% worry about finding the right gifts.

It’s a great idea to sit down and make a concrete and realistic budget before the holiday season gets into full swing. This will allow you to see what’s feasible and necessary and which additional expenses you could avoid. Don’t be afraid to decline gifting scenarios with friends, family, coworkers and others. You could also agree upon a firm budget for a gift exchange.

However, it can be tricker to avoid all gift costs if you feel like you need to provide presents for children in your life. Think quality and care over quantity! Try creating traditions around activities instead of gifts. You could also focus on creating memories around one or two gifts each year instead of a wide variety of presents. For instance, a pair of holiday pajamas and a special snack could be two inexpensive gifts kids receive each year. Or Santa could leave a board game for the whole family to enjoy in addition to one or two individual gifts for kids each year.

HICS wants to ensure that no one avoids seeking mental health or disability help this holiday season due to financial stress. As a helping heart, we know about community supports that can lessen your burden.

Whether you’re looking for help during the holiday season or want to improve your quality of life year-round, we are here for you. Reach out at