Holiday Mental Health


There is no question that visiting loved ones during the holiday season is among the best stress reliefs of the year. It entails taking an often much-needed break from work to catch up with friends and family, have great feasts, and share memorable laughs.

The actual traveling itself, however, leaves much to be desired. The common flight delays and cancellations are likely to leave you frustrated. Meanwhile, the long wait times and airports crowded with irritable travelers will leave you bored or tense. As you begin planning your holiday travels, what can you do to care for your mental health and ensure you can greet loved ones with a warm smile?

Prepare for the Worst

One of the fundamental principles of cognitive behavioral therapy is that, while you can’t control the circumstances around you, you can control the thoughts and behaviors you experience in response to these circumstances. In your case, whether your flights are delayed or canceled is out of your hands. What you can do is mentally prepare and plan for such a scenario, avoiding the sudden panic of frantically shifting plans.

Consider travel insurance. It’s worth it! For an additional fee, travel insurance can help cover the unforeseen expenses common after a flight disruption. Try to take flights in the morning with a preference for non-stop, direct flights. Morning flights are less likely to be delayed; the fewer stops you make, the lower your chances of such disruptions. Suppose you have to make an unexpected overnight layover. In that case, it might be a good idea to scope out possible hotel stays at your layover cities ahead of time. Doing so can even give you a head start over other scrambling travelers.

Keep Up the Holiday Spirit

Waiting at the gate for your next flight can be beyond mind-numbing. No matter how excited you are to visit loved ones, when you start traveling, sitting for several hours and only getting up intermittently to move to a new seat can quickly eat at your enthusiasm. What can you do to counteract this?

You might find success in grounding yourself in the wholesome moments waiting for you at your destination. Consider calling your loved ones to update them on your journey and discuss the fun activities planned on arrival. If your loved ones are not available, you can still take advantage of your free time to make surprise plans, such as researching some potential eateries or community events your loved ones might enjoy.

Stay Active and Healthy

Another well-recognized principle of psychology is the profound relationship between your mind and body; the healthiness or unhealthiness of one can push the other in the same direction. For this reason, taking care of your mental health while traveling can mean taking care of your body just as well.

Food and drink at airports are often sold at inflated prices. Nevertheless, it is worth purchasing if you feel starved or parched. Not doing so could lead to mind fog, irritability, and headaches. Taking a break from sitting to walk around the airport and browse the many stores—even if you don’t buy anything—is a convenient way to keep your body active and kill time between flights. Finally, it is a good idea to pack a neck pillow and blanket when you travel to avoid any sore muscles or cold discomfort.

The holiday season can be a major highlight for many of us. However, depending on the circumstance, it can also be a peak of mental distress. We’ve discussed the frustrations of holiday travel. Still, one might also feel depression because of loneliness and guilt or financial stress over the pressure to buy gifts for loved ones, for example.

If you find yourself celebrating the holidays alone, consider exploring community events where you can connect and celebrate with new people. Introverts might find similar excitement by engaging in new hobbies at home. While the temptation to get loved ones costly gifts can sometimes be overpowering, remember that friends and family almost always appreciate gifts from the heart and moments together above lofty price tags. And regardless of your worries, mindfulness—whether through meditation, journaling, or even yoga—is generally very beneficial.

Holistic mental health care means keeping an eye on your well-being even in happy moments where you might be surprised to find you’re the most vulnerable. Whether you’re traveling or not this holiday season, check in on yourself, your emotions, and cognitions. It might be the key to making your holiday season even more enjoyable and memorable.

Mental Health Resources:

Texas Tropical Behavioral Health Crisis Hotline: 1-877-289-7199

Lifeline prevention number: 9-8-8 (Talk or text)

UTRGV Psychology Clinic / Clinica de Psicologia (956) 665-8800

References Available Upon Request

(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Francisco Banda, Andy Torres, Frances Morales, & Amanda Palomin)