The Expectation of Happiness and Joy are Part of the Paradox of This Holiday Season

The holiday season is upon us, and for many it’s not the happiest season of all.

While celebrations can bring positive feelings like love and connection, according to the American Psychological Association, 38% of Americans say their stress actually gets worse during the holidays, bringing about negative emotions like fatigue, anger and irritability, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The reasons given: lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and family gatherings. And, even after the holidays, many experience a feeling of general disappointment and “let down”.

“One of the most beneficial things we can do leading into the holiday season is to reassess our expectations–our expectations of ourselves, and our expectations of others.  This will create a more realistic foundation from which to move forward through the season,” said Annmarie Cameron, CEO of the Mental Wellness Center. 

Those who live with mental illness can be at an even higher risk. 64% of people living with a mental illness found that the holidays made their symptoms worse.  Many feel added pressure and insecurities, lament about better times in the past, and a great majority felt isolated and lonely–particularly during the COVID era. 

Recently, Santa Barbara County community members were invited by Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness (BeWell) to participate in a community needs survey which revealed people are craving connection and social support. Globally and nationally, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new challenges for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. The results will inform mental health and substance use disorder needs of our community. 

“This survey was valuable in that it showed the variety of mental health needs in our community and the gaps in services. It is critical that we address the unique impacts of COVID-19 and  ensure that services are in place in a timely manner to help our community through recovery,” said Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, PIO/Chief Quality Care and Strategy Officer for BeWell. 

With all of this in mind and factoring in the additional stress of the holiday season,  the Mental Wellness Center wants to remind you that there are simple effective ways to help relieve stress and pressure including planning ahead, being mindful, and remembering to take time for yourself. 

“There are some helpful tips that we like to share around this time of year,” added Cameron. “First and foremost, as I mentioned, set realistic expectations and goals about the holidays and your role in them.  We can choose to participate in as little or as much as we feel like.  One of the healthiest things we can do for our mental health is to say “no” and recognize and honor our own limits.  We don’t need to do everything. 

It’s not just the holidays that contribute to feelings of depression this time of year. Weather during the Fall and Winter season can also play a role. We may start to feel “down” when the days grow shorter and the weather becomes cold and dreary. Conversely, we may begin to feel better in the spring, with longer daylight hours and sunnier days. These mood changes can be serious and compounded when added to other holiday stressors and COVID anxiety. Whatever the reason for emotional struggles, the Mental Wellness Center encourages our community to create an intentional ‘mental’ space for kindness and understanding for others who may be experiencing difficult times this time of year.

Cameron shares, “if you’re nervous about the upcoming holidays, know you’re not alone. Many people are in similar situations and there are resources to help.” Here are just a few resources that can assist and promote hope and support during the holiday season: 

The Mental Wellness Center is a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness around mental health by providing supportive programming, education, and housing in Santa Barbara. For more about the Mental Wellness Center, visit  


About Mental Wellness Center

The Mental Wellness Center is a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness around mental health by providing supportive programming, education, and housing in Santa Barbara. For more information about the Mental Wellness Center, visit:

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