Thoughts from A Therapist // Mentally Healthy Holidays

Mentally Healthy Holidays by Michael Dale Kimmel

As a psychotherapist, this is one of the busiest times of year. Why? Because “The Holidays” bring up so many unrealistic expectations for many of us. We get depressed because we compare ourselves, our gifts and our families with what we think other people experience. We all imagine everyone else is having a lot more fun than we are.  

But honestly, we have no idea how happy or miserable anyone else is behind their façade. If you could sit in my chair and hear how unhappy most people are at this time of year, you’d stop envying them.

So why not make it your goal to have mentally healthy holidays this year?

What could that look like? Here are some suggestions:


Go for a walk or a jog or a hike. Hit the gym or go out dancing and break a good sweat. You can’t buy anti-depressants as good as the endorphins your body produces when you exercise/dance/run/skate/surf.

Just say “No.”

Do you hate shopping, malls, crowds and jammed parking lots? Don’t do it. Don’t let yourself get talked into social events that bum you out. Instead, have a casual lunch or dinner with a friend. If you’re invited to an event and don’t want to go, graciously say, “Thanks, but I have other plans.” No one needs to know that your other plans involve staying home and watching reality TV.

Make stuff.

I’m not anywhere close to a Martha Stewart type, but sometimes I find it really fun to make gifts for my nearest and dearest. I’ve made pots filled with cactus and succulents, CD custom music mixes, tie-dyed clothes…and so can you. With a little creativity and money, you can make some pretty great stuff that means a lot more to people than a gift from a fancy store.

Moderate your alcohol.  

This time of year may bring up unpleasant emotions, but drinking them away only gives you a temporary escape (and a hangover). You want a nice, healthy escape?  Go out dancing: limit yourself to a drink or two (max) and lots of water and have a ball, sweating through your clothes. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself smiling on the way home.

No anonymous sex.

This isn’t a good time to hook up and feel sad and lonely afterward. Many people try this to avoid feeling lonely. Too bad it doesn’t work. Instead, spend time with people who love you. If you’re new in town and don’t know many people, do things that make you feel good, like going to the movies, getting a massage, or taking yourself out to a nice lunch. If you’re having great sex with someone you love, well done! If not, focus on things in your life that please you.

Stay home.

Don’t go anywhere you don’t want to go. You’re an adult now, so it’s time to be your own Santa Claus. People may guilt trip you and tell you you’re selfish, but why be miserable just to please someone else? If you want to be with family, great! If not, visit them some other time and stay home.

Think spiritual, not religious.

It’s great if the religious aspects of this time of year are meaningful to you. If they’re not, does this mean that you’re left with commercialism as your god instead?  Fear not, there’s something else: find a spiritual/peaceful/calming component at this time of year. It could be meditation, walking in nature, creating a “vision” board of how you’d like your 2018 to be, or it could just be sitting quietly and reading an inspiring book. Find something centering, grounding and inspiring…the Mall ain’t enough.


One way to avoid the intense shopaholicism of this time of year is to focus on giving of yourself, not just your money or your beautifully wrapped gifts. It’s invigorating to give your time and energy to others, and bypass the ubiquitous commercial messages.

This time of year can be a time of joy and improved self care, or bitterness and resentment. Be your own Santa Claus and go for the former. After all, you’ve been good (enough), right?



Born in northwestern Ohio (the oldest of four children), I grew up in a small farm town. I was named after my great-grandfather Michael, who reportedly had the first Ford dealership in the State of Ohio (he ran it out of his hardware store). Eventually, I escaped the farm and made it to the big city of Cincinnati, where I earned a B.A. in Personnel and Group Development. After graduation, I moved to London where I worked at a punk clothing store in Covent Garden. During much of my 20s, I lived in Egypt, Denmark, Greece and (the former) Yugoslavia and hitchhiked all over Europe. After returning to the USA, I earned a Master’s Degree in Developmental Psychology while interning for “Sesame Street” in New York City. In San Francisco, I was the Clinical Director for the Homeless Children’s Network and a counselor for Aptos and Potrero Hill Middle Schools while earning my second Master’s Degree. In San Diego, I’ve worked as a licensed psychotherapist for Kaiser Permanente (Point Loma Psychiatry), Psychiatric Centers at San Diego and San Diego Hospice. I opened my private practice in 2002.