8 ways Christmas affects your mental health – and what to do about it


The most wonderful time of the year? Christmas and the festive season can be full of joy, fun and pleasure as people gather together with friends and family, swap presents, enjoy good food, and get in the Christmas spirit with traditional activities.

But not everyone loves the holidays. People who experience mental health problems may find that it makes their mental health worse. The pressure to have the perfect Christmas can trigger negative feelings for those who feel their own holidays will never much up to the Hallmark movie. And holiday stress can get all too much for even the most festive spirited.

In a 1980 study Peretti asked people their feelings about the Christmas holiday and the most prominent themes loneliness, anxiety, and helplessness. Peretti concluded this is due to comparison and the myth that everyone else is having a good time with their perfect families – which is certainly not the case. A UK study found that 3 in 10 Brits claim their mental health takes a complete ‘nosedive’ over the Christmas period, citing pressures such as money and keeping other people happy. Christmas stress is very real and those who have an existing mental illness may find themselves more at risk in December.

Financial stress

The costs associated with gifts, travel, and festivities can be a significant burden. Right now millions of people are struggling with the basics, and there are around 37.9 million people in poverty in the US, 11.5% of the population. So the pressure to be spending money over the festive period can really be overwhelming. 

To address this, it’s important to set a realistic budget and stick to it. Prioritizing experiences over material gifts or suggesting a secret Santa exchange can also help mitigate these pressures. Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t do, but proud of what you can do. Although it can be hard to speak up, share with your family, friends and if they’re old enough children that this year you will only be buying for certain people, or spending a lower amount – but that you will still be spending time together outside from giving gifts – to help with realistic expectations from those around you.

Organize your schedule to prevent last-minute stress and make a budget to help avoid financial strain. Prioritize what is most important to you and your loved ones and focus on that.

Wysa has financial stress packs that can help you work through any anxiety or negative mood you may be experiencing. If money worries are making you feel overwhelmed, in the UK you can contact Citizens Advice who will talk you through your options.


Christmas can exacerbate feelings of isolation, especially for those who have lost loved ones or are separated from family. We see images of everyone pulling crackers around the table or dancing and parties, and don’t feel we have that in our holiday season. 

Reaching out to friends, attending community events, or volunteering can help create a sense of connection. A 2022 study in the UK found that there is not only a correlation between volunteering and good mental health but that volunteering can actually make you happier. In today’s society relationships and connections are dispersed, and there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to a Facebook friend on Christmas Day, or chatting with people in a different country. Sending holiday cards is also a nice way to keep connected.

Many of our users say that Wysa can be a friend or confidante when feeling lonely, and we know that the therapeutic bond created is equivalent to that of a human therapist. When you feel stressed, like you need to talk, or just want a break, use Wysa to help you deal with difficult feelings and identify ways to cope.

Woman sat alone under a blanket on the couch with a lit Christmas tree in the back. Mental Health at Christmas.

Family dynamics

Family gatherings can sometimes lead to or exacerbate tensions and make the festive season a difficult time. If certain family members or social situations make Christmas a stressful time for you there are ways to manage this. 

Setting boundaries, having a plan to manage difficult conversations, or limiting the amount of time spent in potentially stressful family settings can be beneficial. If it’s causing you worry or anxiety that you would like to address, there is no harm in reaching out to someone before the event. If it’s a specific issue at hand it could help speak and work on resolving or at least arriving at an understanding. 

Smriti Joshi, Lead Psychologist at Wysa says “one can definitely reach out to a trusted supportive human in their life such as a therapist to vent out about their feelings and to get some perspective for themselves before attending the event. Talking with someone else, even a mental health chatbot like Wysa can help our thoughts and feelings find an outlet reducing their intensity and identify any unhelpful or difficult thoughts that need to be relooked at or appraised differently. This can help manage one’s own feelings better , allowing the person to be present at such an event with more calm and in better control of their feelings, reducing the likelihood of an argument.”

Try not to start an argument at the event. Remember it is an occasion designed to be happy and memorable for the right reasons. If you feel you cannot engage with an individual at the event without it causing friction, simply acknowledge them and then try to spend time with other people. Remember that you can choose how long you would like to be there at the event. Making a list of scenarios that could trigger your can help you be more mindful while at the event and to make a decision to exit in case any of these triggers show up.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The winter months are dark and cold and reduced daylight can contribute to depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is as chemicals in the hypothalamus do not work properly without light, affecting the production of the hormones melatonin and serotonin and the body’s circadian rhythm which regulates several biological processes during a 24-hour period. It’s estimated that almost a third of people in the UK suffer symptoms of SAD.

Light therapy, maintaining a healthy diet, and regular exercise can be effective ways to combat SAD. Light therapy works by using a special lamp that emits white light for a couple of hours a day, ideally in the morning. Your meals can go a great way to helping you avoid the winter blues if you boost your system with iron and Vitamin D rich foods such as spinach and eggs, foods that include omega-3 fatty acids as found in oily fish, and wholegrain carbohydrates for slow release energy. And we know that the endorphins from exercise are a great way to manage stressful situations such as Christmas, and can help you feel good during winter. Although it might be hard to get out for a walk or jog in the cold, try setting goals through Wysa and noting how exercise makes you feel afterwards. 

Overwhelm from social expectations

The social whirlwind of the season can lead to burnout. It’s okay to say no to events or obligations that feel overwhelming, and to take time for self-care. 

The best way to gauge if it’s an event you really want to go to or not is to take a moment to tune into your body. When you imagine yourself there do you see that you will feel happy, or is the thought of the event accompanied with a sense of anxiety such as tension in the body or a churning stomach. 

If you don’t want to go to an event at Christmas you don’t have to explain yourself. Simply say ‘I am sorry but I can’t come, and am disappointed to be missing out. I hope we get to catch up soon.’ That is polite, and leaves the door open for future socializing without any negative impact.

Constant comparisons to the seemingly perfect holidays that others are having can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and comparison. You might think that everyone is having the perfect time and judging you, but the truth is many are in the same situation, feeling anxious, worried about Christmas time, and not always full of festive cheer.

Try to minimize screen time and time on social media. Look at content with a critical lens. This doesn’t mean a mean or nasty lens, but asking questions. Why did they choose to share this? Is their life always like this? What message are they trying to convey? What happened before this picture was taken? How is their life different to yours?

Remind yourself of the aspects of the season that you enjoy and that are meaningful to you, which may not necessarily align with commercial or societal expectations.

Unhealthy coping strategies

With so many parties, increased consumption of alcohol and other substances can be a concern during the holidays. Being mindful of consumption, planning activities that don’t center around alcohol, and seeking support from groups or a therapist can help. If alcohol is an issue for you you might not be able to access services that normally help, if they’re closed during the Christmas period.

Try to step away from the idea that ‘it’s Christmas so it doesn’t matter’ and bring some mindful awareness to your consumption. If you like a glass of wine with dinner or some fizz to celebrate, that’s one thing, but needing to drink a lot on your own just to cope is a negative sign. If you feel yourself reaching for a drink but deep down know it won’t help in the long run, try exploring your feelings another way, maybe through Wysa. You can also distract yourself by calling a loved one or going for a walk. One great tactic is to disassociate the habit. If you always pour yourself a drink when you get in from work, could you instead promise yourself you’ll read a chapter of your book every night?

Seb C tells his story of how Wysa helps him manage recovery.

Man looking out of window at Christmas time struggling with grief and loss during the holidays.

Reflection and grief

The end of the year can bring about reflective thoughts about one’s life and the passage of time, which can sometimes trigger grief or existential anxieties. Acknowledging these feelings, perhaps through journaling or speaking with a trusted person, can be therapeutic.

It’s good to reflect on the year that has passed, but there is a fine line between reflection and rumination. If something hasn’t gone as you had planned, rather than beat yourself up about it, ask yourself how you could improve for the next year. Say you wanted to get fit – maybe sign up for a yoga class once a week to ease in and do something that helps you feel good. Set yourself achievable goals that make yourself feel good – and get an extra dopamine boost by ticking them off.

Look back on the year and write down things you are grateful for. That might be anything from a nice meet up with friends to avoiding winter flu. It’s easy to sit on Christmas Eve and think you have to have done everything and had the perfect year, but even small things count, and by acknowledging them you take yourself back to those good feelings. Practicing gratitude also helps slow down your nervous system, thus relieving yourself from anxiety or low mood.

Disruption of routine

Regular routines are often disrupted during the holidays, which can affect mental health. Trying to maintain some structure, such as regular sleep and meal times, can make a difference. It’s easy to get swept up in the commotion, but a good night’s sleep and good check in points make the world of difference.

Make Wysa part of your regular daily habits at this time of year and all year round. By giving you tools and tactics to improve mood, being a space to talk to help prevent loneliness, and as a listening ear it is a great way to alleviate any depression or anxiety you may be feeling at this time of year.


Cover Image by supersizer from Getty Images Signature, Canva.

Image 1 by fotostorm from Getty Images Signature, Canva.

Image 2 by tommaso79 from Getty Images, Canva.

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