Managing Mental Health Around the Holidays
Guest piece By: Dr. Tanya Martin, clinical psychologist and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider
Although many people look forward to the holidays, it can be a sad and stressful time for others. According to a study done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people say they are affected by the “holiday blues,” meaning they experience symptoms of depression or anxiety during this time of year. Unlike a traditional diagnosis, these feelings are typically temporary. However, it’s important to keep in mind that short-term mental health problems can manifest into serious, long-term issues. As the holiday season approaches, keep in mind the risks, signs and treatment options associated with depression and anxiety.
Understand the Risk Factors
While certain lifestyle changes are obvious, the impact of others can be less noticeable. Depression or anxiety during the holidays can be a result of several scenarios, including:
- Loss: Spending the holidays without a family member or friend can be difficult mentally and emotionally. Whether the loss is recent or not, a person’s absence can feel more apparent around this time of year.
- Family Disputes: In some cases, the holidays are associated with negative memories or lack of tradition. Because family gatherings often take place around this time of year, estranged relationships and/or previous disagreements with family members can resurface.
- Financial Stress: Whether it’s exchanging gifts or partaking in seasonal activities, many holiday traditions revolve around spending money. For that reason, someone who has monetary problems can feel a heightened sense of stress, guilt or sadness.
- Loneliness: If you live far from family or don’t have anyone to spend the holidays with, this time of year can feel especially lonesome. Pressure to be around loved ones can lead to an intensified sense of seclusion and grief.
Pay Attention to the Signs
It’s important to note when you experience or witness significant changes in behavior or attitude during the holidays. There could be an underlying concern if you’re noticing:
- Loss of Interest: If you’re seeing that you or someone you know is no longer participating in activities they ordinarily would enjoy during this time of year, consider if there’s a more prominent issue at hand.
- Isolation: One of the most recognizable signs of depression and anxiety is a lack of presence. If you or someone you know is separating themselves from friends or family during the holiday season, perhaps it is the influence of a poor mental state.
- Mood Swings: Irritability, misplaced anger and an exceptionally care-free attitude can be a result of poor mental health. Keep this in mind if you find yourself or others expressing intensified emotions.
- Fatigue: Your mental state has an effect on your physical health. If you notice yourself or others feeling increasingly less motivated or lethargic, it’s possible that these are symptoms of depression or anxiety.
How to Help
If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health challenges as a result of the holiday season, there are routes of self-help as well as professional help:
- Let it Out: If you’re experiencing signs of depression or anxiety, embrace those thoughts and feelings rather than pushing them aside or ignoring they exist. By acknowledging an unhealthy mental state, you allow yourself to consider opportunities for help.
- Simplify the Holidays: If traditional holiday arrangements are bringing feelings of stress or sadness, celebrate in a way that makes you feel as peaceful and happy as possible. That may mean replacing the pressure of exchanging gifts with new, organic holiday traditions.
- Get the Help of a Professional: Whether you’re dealing with financial difficulties or the loss of a loved one, embrace the opportunity to receive professional help. Therapists are trained and dedicated to providing a listening ear and guidance or additional help where it’s needed.
- Focus on Physical Health: Proper diet and exercise can make a significant difference to your mental health. Physical activity allows the body to release endorphins, or “happy hormones,” and a diet filled with nutritious foods works to properly fuel our minds as well as our bodies.
Dr. Tanya Martin is a clinical psychologist and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.
*Dr Martin picture courtesy of Finn Partners