While the holidays are a time of joy and festivity, they can also be an emotionally challenging time to navigate, especially if you struggle with a mental health disorder. The pressure and expectation to participate in the merriment are likely to leave you feeling even more anxious, depressed, or isolated.
You’re not the only one who may feel discouraged and hopeless during the holiday season. Many people experience mental health struggles during this time of the year. The holidays are a stressful few weeks for the majority of people, and that stress tends to exacerbate existing mental health conditions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people report their symptoms of anxiety or depression are most severe from the first week of December through the middle of January. Studies from the National Alliance on Mental Illness show that 64% of people report that the holidays make their mental illness worse.
Additionally, a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) also affects about 5% of the population. Also called seasonal depression, SAD is a subtype of depression that causes feelings of sadness and hopelessness that last throughout the winter months.
If you’re feeling down this holiday season, art therapy is something that may help. These festive art therapy activities can help you through these next few difficult weeks. They offer a way to engage with the season without having to spend too much time in situations that may feel stressful or triggering.
Holiday Art Therapy for Mental Health
There’s a common misconception that art therapy is simply doing crafts in a therapeutic environment under the direction of a therapist or clinician. While some programs may not recognize the importance of art therapy, the modality can be so much more than that. When used as part of a comprehensive treatment program, art therapy has incredible potential to provide mental health relief.
As Marnita Patton, one of the art therapists at our Pasadena Villa Orlando location, explains, “Art therapy is the mindful use of art media that can help in positively moving energy.” Marnita sees the effects that these practices can have particularly during difficult periods of the year. “Creating seasonally-themed work can help create a new memory and emotionally reframe the holiday experience,” she says.
Again, the holidays are not an easy time of year for many people. Visiting and spending time with family can be stressful, especially for those with troubling family dynamics. The holidays also magnify the pain of loss and grief, particularly if you’ve experienced a recent loss.
Holiday gatherings and parties can intensify symptoms of anxiety or challenge those who struggle to control their drinking or substance use. They can also be difficult for individuals dealing with disordered eating behaviors. Trying to manage these conditions in unpredictable environments can be incredibly stressful.
How can you get through the holidays this year while taking care of your mental health?
Marnita shared with us some of the art therapy activities she is using at Pasadena Villa this year. These activities are helpful tools that you can incorporate this holiday season. You receive the opportunity to look at the season through a new lens when you use each one as an intentional practice for healing.
Mindful Holiday Slow Drawing
- Paper (i.e. sketch paper or watercolor paper)
- Preferred drawing utensils in holiday colors (i.e. colored pencils, pens, watercolor, markers)
Art therapy can feel intimidating to someone with little or no experience creating art. The beautiful thing about art therapy is that anyone can benefit, regardless of technical skill or training. Mindful slow drawing is accessible to everyone and is the perfect way to begin incorporating an art therapy practice.
To practice holiday mindful slow drawing, all you need is a few sheets of paper and some drawing utensils in the holiday colors of your choice. Slow drawing encourages you to connect with your breathing and movement so you can come closer to the present moment. It permits you to have some time to play and create through the calm, repetitive, slow drawing of lines.
Watercolor Ornament Notecards
- Watercolor paper
- Watercolor brush
- Permanent fine point black markers
Giving thanks is a great way to find joy in the holiday season. Sending someone a surprise thank you always brightens their day and knowing that you’ve done something kind will brighten yours. You can create these watercolor ornament notecards and write notes to your loved ones to thank them for your favorite parts of this last year.
Watercolors are an important part of this art therapy practice because they encourage a tactile relationship with your art. You may feel fearful of the imperfections that are an innate part of working with watercolor, but these provide an opportunity for you to accept these perceived blemishes.
First, use the fine point markers to draw your ornaments (or whatever holiday decorations you prefer – there are no specific rules!). Then use your watercolor supplies to fill in your decorations with splashes of color. You might even want to use the intended recipient’s favorite colors for an added touch!
Wooden Snowflake Garden Stakes
- Wooden snowflake stake
- Outdoor acrylic paint
- Oil-based paint pens
It may be difficult not to blame or judge yourself during the holidays when it seems like everyone expects you to do certain things. Creating a wooden snowflake garden stake serves as the perfect reminder that every person and each act of kindness is as unique and beautiful as a snowflake. You are okay just the way you are, whether you’re struggling with your symptoms or not.
As you paint your wooden snowflake stake with the colors of your choosing, encourage yourself to participate in a Loving Kindness Meditation. This technique involves sending love to both yourself and to others who need some gentle kindness in their lives. It’s not as easy as it might seem – give yourself the opportunity to try it a few times.
You can also write kind, reassuring affirmations on your snowflake stake, such as:
- May I be happy
- May I be safe
- May I have ease
- May I give and receive appreciation
Display your snowflake stakes in a potted plant around your house or outside in the garden where the effects of your kindness meditation can blossom and spread!
Mental Health Treatment During the Holidays
Trying to manage your mental health without support may be burdensome during the holidays. Thankfully, treatment facilities operate throughout the year and are available to help whenever you need support. Seeking mental health treatment during the holiday season is a good idea if this time of year is especially difficult for you.
Pasadena Villa is a psychiatric treatment network that provides residential, transitional, and outpatient mental health treatment services. We work with adults who experience cognitive, emotional, and social disorders looking for healing, guidance, and help with managing their condition.
We know the holiday season can be especially difficult for adults with mental health disorders. Pasadena Villa outlines specialized treatment programs during this time of year to ensure you can participate in the holiday festivities while surrounded by care and support. As Marnita explained, our activities are specially designed to incorporate the celebration of the season!
Please reach out to us to learn more about the programs available at Pasadena Villa. Our admissions specialists are available to answer any questions you have and find the program that’s the right fit for you. This holiday season give yourself the gift of support and healing by seeking mental health treatment at Pasadena Villa!