December 8, 2021

December 8, 2021

Why Are the Holidays So Hard on Mental Health?

The holidays are a time for family reunions, good food and joyous celebrations. But the disruption in routine, potentially challenging family situations and an onset of seasonal affective disorder can also make this festive time incredibly hard. 

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The holidays can be a wonderful time to get together with family, enjoy a much deserved break from work, and stuff yourself with good food. But for some, the holiday season can be a challenging time for mental health. Routines are uprooted, finances in flux, and familial expectations and difficult conversations can be just enough to make you want to hibernate. That's especially true when you add COVID-19 and seasonal affective disorder into the mix.

Managing the Winter Blues With Psychedelics & Therapy

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to CAMH, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. For most people, this happens in the fall or winter but others have reported SAD symptoms in the summer as well. It's also been called season depression.

About 5% of adults in the US experience SAD and it typically lasts about 40% of the year. SAD is also more common in women than men.

Researchers believe that SAD can be triggered by changes in the amount of sunlight a person experiences. A lack of sunlight in the winter afternoon can upset a person’s biological clock and disturb neurotransmitter functions like the release of serotonin and dopamine.

Serotonin and dopamine are chemicals released in the brain that act as “feel good hormones,” helping to improve outlook, motivation, and ability to feel pleasure.

With these chemicals interrupted, SAD can cause people to feel groggy, unfocused, and irritable, making it hard to form bonds with other people or be productive

During the holiday season, it’s no wonder managing SAD, while navigating family during those cold, short days, can be especially challenging. 

Mental Health Help Through the Holidays

Luckily, there are several ways to help individuals manage SAD and get the most out of the holiday season.

Light Therapy

The most common remedy for SAD, light therapy, involves sitting in front of a light therapy box that emits a bright light (sans harmful UV rays). The lightbox mimics outdoor light, helping to stimulate chemical changes in your brain that lift your mood and ease SAD symptoms. 

Most people see improvements within one or two weeks of starting treatment, with most finding that light therapy works best in conjunction with talk therapy.

Talk Therapy/Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Talk therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can help provide people struggling with SAD opportunities to express and work through the negative feelings and symptoms of depression. The solutions could be things such as positive self-talk, giving oneself credit, creating space for positive responses, and practicing mindfulness.


To help combat the symptoms of depression, doctors will often prescribe Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant that works by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain. 

It’s important to note that, on average, SSRIs usually take about 4-6 weeks before people start feeling positive changes.

Psychedelics & SAD

Like antidepressants, psychedelic substances can help individuals struggling with SAD to improve their lives by having various effects on the mood-regulating serotonin system. The major difference is that clinicians have found that most people begin to positively respond to psychedelic substances when used in combination with psychotherapy, after just two sessions. This is groundbreaking, compared to antidepressants that maintain, rather than treat depression at its root.

Ketamine and psilocybin have been studied heavily for their ability to help treat symptoms of SAD. In ketamine trials, many people experienced improvements in their symptoms within a few hours, and often lasted a few weeks. Ketamine is known to help to stabilize mood and reduce symptoms of depression.

Psilocybin in conjunction with psychotherapy has demonstrated the ability to make traditional therapy more effective by improving openness and providing new states of consciousness by helping to dissolve the ego and preconceptions.

Microdosing psilocybin may also be an effective technique to combat seasonal changes in your mental health. Microdosing has been suggested by anecdotal evidence to improve mood and energy levels without impacting  the state of consciousness.


Breathwork has also been known to help reduce stress and create feelings of openness, love, and gratitude, helping to combat anxiety, depression, and trauma blocks. 

During the holiday season, it's especially important to remember to breathe when Uncle Keith and Aunt Karen start to talk politics over the turkey or Tofurky.


Like breathwork, meditation is a great tool to help yourself be and stay present. Meditating for just five minutes a day can help with focus and concentration, improve self-awareness and self-esteem, and lower levels of stress and anxiety.

While each of these treatment options can have healing opportunities for people experiencing SAD and other mental health issues, iSTRYM offers care providers and their patients a holistic approach to healing. With psychedelic-assisted treatment protocols, and wellness tools such as meditation, breathwork from SOMA Breath, and music therapy from LUCID, iSTRYM provides the most personalized mental health care available.

Learn more about our psychedelic research into ibogaine and MDMA, as well as our digital therapeutics technology.

Written by

Hayley Kirsh