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Mental Health During The Holidays: Coping With Anxiety And Depression

Lido Wellness Center Blog

Mental Health During The Holidays: Coping With Anxiety And Depression

December 21, 2021

The holidays are always depicted as a season to be joyful, celebrate and enjoy time with the ones we love. But for some, this time of year brings stressors that trigger unhappy or uncomfortable feelings. This is because people may be spending time with family or friends, or in environments that are not good for their mental health and well-being. As a result, it adds extra stress and incites triggers brought on by the holiday season. 

The holiday season can bring on unique challenges for those who are struggling with mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. But, with a clear plan in place, the season can be more enjoyable instead of something to dread. 

Depression and Anxiety Around the Holidays

Many people thrive during the hectic holiday season. However, many people struggle with mental health during the holiday season. At least 64% of people surveyed by the National Alliance on Mental Health reported that the season worsened their mental illness. 

Similarly, the American Psychology Association found that 38% of people surveyed reported increases in stress levels. For those already suffering from depression and anxiety, coping with holiday stress can lead to depression or anxiety.

The frenetic pace and high expectations of the stressful season can escalate those issues for many people. Everyone’s mental health can be affected by the joys and stresses of the season. We have some tips and suggestions to help learn how to best treat and cope with your mental health conditions during the holidays.

What Causes the Holiday Blues? 

The holidays come with high expectations. Families and friends are expected to gather and celebrate, sometimes repeatedly. However, coping with the holidays is stressful for those who would rather not gather with family or friends. Loneliness can trigger stress, too.

Gift-giving can generate feelings of anxiety and stress, as well, for some during the holidays. The “holiday blues” is the feeling of sadness or anxiety brought on by the expectations and stresses of the season. But is a case of the holiday blues the same as depression? 

Holiday Blues vs Depression

Anxiety around the holidays is real, but there’s a difference between someone experiencing the blues and actual depression. Symptoms of the holiday blues may be:

  • Situational sadness that increases with the season
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Stress
  • Trouble concentrating

Depression during the holidays is possible, too. Unlike the holiday blues, depression does not necessarily lessen when the holidays are over. Common symptoms include:

  • Sad or empty feelings
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Fatigue
  • Sleeplessness or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating 

How Mental Health Conditions Are Affected by the Holidays 

All conditions of mental health during the holidays require attention. The stresses of the season can be a challenge for those who struggle with mental health. Some specific symptoms or changes in mental health that may occur during the holidays are:

  • Mania or Bipolar Disorder: Lack of sleep can trigger these disorders or cause depression. 
  • Substance Abuse Disorders: Festivities without a plan for success can provide opportunities to repeat past behaviors.
  • Schizophrenia: Seasonal activity changes may worsen symptoms like hallucinations or delusions. 
  • Depression Feelings of hopelessness and isolation can increase with holiday anxiety. 

Risk Factors Of Depression, Anxiety, and Other Mental Health Conditions

Who is at risk of increased anxiety, stress, or depression during the holidays? Anyone can experience mental health concerns when coping with holiday stress. But some people have risk factors that make them vulnerable to anxiety, stress, or depression during the holiday season. 

  • Having pre-existing Mental Illness: One risk factor is already having a diagnosis of depression. Those who have this diagnosis should be aware that holiday anxiety can increase symptoms of depression. 
  • Grief and Loss: Another risk factor involves those dealing with grief or loss. The season is full of events bringing people together. Those who have recently lost a loved one may feel anxious, sad, or depressed instead of joyful. 
  • Trauma: Those who have experienced trauma or family conflicts are at risk. Coming together with family or friends may be uncomfortable or bring back unpleasant memories. Experiencing situations that bring back these feelings or memories can put stress on mental health during the holidays.

Those under financial strain may be at risk of mental health problems. The pressure to select just the right present or spend limited funds may increase holiday anxiety for many.

Those experiencing a lack of natural sunlight may be at risk. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, results from low sun exposure. SAD can cause or increase depression symptoms. 

Know the Signs Of Mental Health: What to Watch Out For 

Be on the lookout for signs or changes in others or yourself over the holidays. Changes in mental health usually send out warning flares for others to see. If you know what to look for, help can be on the way sooner. 

  1. You may see someone numbing their feelings or emotions. Look for excessive alcohol or other substance use during the holidays.
  2. Be mindful of someone who doesn’t participate in any holiday events or activities. They may be at risk for mental health changes. They could also be simply struggling. Loneliness, loss of a loved one, or grief may all play a part in detaching from celebrations. 
  3. Be on the lookout for excessive sleeping or sleeplessness. Normal exhaustion from the holidays might be expected, but excessive changes should be noted.
  4. When someone shows you they are overwhelmed by the season, and they’re willing to verbalize their stress, struggles, or sadness, it’s a sign they may need help to cope.  

Helping A Friend Or Loved One Suffering During the Holidays

We all want to see our friends and family happy and healthy. When we see them struggling with holiday anxiety or other changes in mental health, you can help. The Mayo Clinic suggests these steps to help out friends or loved ones during this busy season. 

  • Acknowledge their feelings: If they are grieving a loss, feeling lonely, or feeling left out of celebrations, validate how they feel.
  • Reach out: Check in on friends and family members during the season. Ask how they are feeling and how they are coping with holiday stress.
  • Celebrate by marking the season in some small way. Set up a video call, drop off a card, or share pictures to connect with them. 
  • Accept friends or family as they are: Set aside previous differences, when it is healthy to do so, to come together. Let them know they are important to you and that they are valuable and loved. 
  • Choose physical health: Encourage self-care and healthy habits. Holiday indulgences can increase mental health problems. Counteracting them with invitations to take a walk, have a nutritious meal or take a break from holiday busyness can help reduce seasonal stress. 
  • Encourage mental health support: If you see suffering, suggest seeking professional advice. Know the signs of trouble and don’t be afraid to advocate for a mental health check or professional support. 

Finding the Right Specialist to Help With Holiday Mental Health

When the holiday season is negatively affecting your mental health, it is time to see a professional. Finding the right specialist can be tricky unless you follow a few simple guidelines. First, touch base with your primary care doctor. 

This generalist physician can rule out other illnesses that may be contributing to the holiday anxiety you are feeling. Next, seek out a professional practice to conduct a mental health check. It is important to get the opinion of a mental health professional at this stage to determine if the “holiday blues” or a more serious mental health issue is the concern. 

Typical Treatment for Mental Health Around The Holidays 

When mental health and the holidays collide, a professional may suggest treatment to help. All mental health concerns can heighten during the holiday season. So, holiday anxiety, stress, or depression can feel more intense than when they are experienced at other times of the year. But treatment for coping with holiday stress and anxiety can be necessary for those struggling. Professional care is necessary for some people. A few potential treatments may include:

  • Relaxation techniques or breathing exercises
  • Regular exercise to combat stress
  • Therapy sessions 
  • Joining a supportive group
  • Guided discussions with family members or friends
  • Self-help materials specific to your needs

Lido Wellness Center Can Help Restore Your Mental Health 

When seasonal stressors impact how you feel and act, you should ask for help. Even though it might seem scary, asking for help can be a life-changing decision. The holiday season is challenging for many people, and even though it may seem like a joyful season it may not be for everyone. 

If you are feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed this holiday, you may benefit from professional support and guidance. Contact us to find out how we can help you. Our mental health professionals have the experience and training to assist you in improving your life and the lives of the people you love. 

If any form of physical self-harm is suspected, contact authorities or someone who can help. If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, there are resources available to provide free and confidential support. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or the Teen Line at 1-800-TLC-TEEN.

References

https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/signs-of-holiday-depression.html

https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/mcleans-guide-managing-mental-health-around-holidays

https://achieveconcierge.com/blog/hope-for-the-holidays-mental-health-and-the-holiday-season/

https://greatist.com/health/holiday-depression

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