For many, the holidays can make managing loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions even more challenging than they already are. Neuro Wellness Spa has compiled a list of healthy coping strategies that can help you manage holiday stress, holiday depression, and feeling lonely during the holiday season.
The holiday season is supposed to be fun, joyous, and happy, right? It’s the time of year when we gather with family and friends. But what if we can’t gather with family and friends? And, what if mental health problems get in the way of feeling fun, joyous, or happy?
Why are Anxiety and Depression Triggered During the Holidays?
You may be asking yourself why you might have negative feelings during the holidays. To understand this, first, we must understand that triggering events can vary vastly from one person to the next. Flare-ups in mental illness can be incited by an infinite number of things, and we may not always know the reason. That being said, some physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of the holiday season can contribute to new or worsening symptoms of psychiatric disorders.
For some, the holiday season can be overwhelmingly stressful. During the fall and winter months, people have to balance their work lives, family lives, and personal lives. People have to shop for gifts, attend parties, and spend money. They may have to see family members they haven’t seen in a long time, they may disappoint their loved ones, and they may simply run out of time. Stress can start to increase around Halloween and not decrease again until after the new year. And for those who struggle with social anxiety, the number of social gatherings one might be expected to attend can add another layer of stress.
Others may be perpetually disappointed by the realities of their holiday season. In the movies, we see happy families, holiday meals, twinkling lights, and magic reindeer. In the real world, we see family strife, credit card bills, unmet quotas, and commercialism. It’s not unnatural to have a glistening mental image of what the holidays, events, and gatherings should be or how they should occur. When these expectations are unmet, it can be a significant letdown because things do not play out how we thought they would. The disappointment of the holiday season may be overwhelming.
Comparing to Others
Another reason anxiety, loneliness, and depression are often triggered during the holiday season is that it is easier for us to compare ourselves with others, especially financially. Does my sister’s family look healthier than mine on our Christmas cards? Did I spend enough money on my wife’s gift? Is my neighbor’s Christmas tree bigger than ours? Did I get as many presents as I did last year? Unfortunately, the holiday season is steeped in capitalism and consumerism, and comparisons to the people around us are sometimes impossible to avoid. Making these comparisons can contribute to low self-esteem and make us feel anxious and depressed when our neighbors, friends, and relatives seem to be happier and have a better life than we do, even when it is not true.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
When the seasons change as summer drifts into fall and then winter hits, many people may experience a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Shorter days and less sunlight may trigger a chemical change in the brain leading to low mood and other symptoms of depression. In addition, mental distress surrounding the holidays can compound this effect leading to a build-up of mental health problems.
Other Anxiety and Depression Triggers During the Holidays
Along with increased stress, unrealistic expectations, comparing to others, and seasonal affective disorder, other aspects of the holiday season can trigger anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. These factors may be more individualized and specific, however, they are still present in people’s lives.
It is easy to feel sad and depressed if you are spending the holidays alone. You can feel isolated when you are left out of holiday activities and events and don’t spend time with others. At times, people choose to avoid social interactions for various reasons and may regret that decision as the holidays unfold. This is extremely common and can lead to profoundly uncomfortable feelings of loneliness.
Families don’t always get along. If there is an ongoing family conflict between loved ones, it can be hard to feel connected and loved. The very thing that should relieve loneliness can backfire if a family member decides to bring up the past for example. Family conflict during the holidays can lead to additional stress and anxiety during family gatherings and often result in social isolation and more loneliness.
Loss of a Loved One
If a loved one recently passed away and this is the first holiday without them, it can make us experience grief and a sense of loss all over again. Loneliness during the holidays can be overwhelming without your loved one. Understanding how to support a loved one throughout the holidays can make a huge difference.
It isn’t uncommon to have experienced a traumatic event during the holiday season. Prior traumatic events that occurred during the holidays can be re-triggered and make us feel anxious, depressed, and scared. To avoid triggers, some might avoid social contact and resort to social isolation which could have an impact on emotional health.
Past Substance Abuse
If someone is recovering from drug and/or alcohol abuse, the holidays can be a difficult time and trigger anxiety from being around alcohol and drugs. If you are more likely to drink or use drugs when you are feeling lonely or experiencing social isolation, keep in mind that the holiday season can be an overwhelming time of year. Abusing substances can also exacerbate depressive symptoms or another existing mental health condition.
Preventing Loneliness and Depression this Holiday Season
The most important thing you can do for yourself to prevent anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness during the holidays is to practice self-care and do what is best for you. Make a concerted effort to develop healthy coping strategies and maintain healthy habits so that when you begin to experience social isolation or depression this fall and winter, you will not feel overwhelmed.
Consider seeking professional support if you feel lonely or depressed. A mental health professional can help you understand the things that trigger you and help you avoid them. They can also understand why you may feel lonely during the holidays and help you manage the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Your mental and physical health is vital to your overall well-being. Consider incorporating the following during the holiday season if you are beginning to feel overwhelmed:
- Set realistic expectations for the holidays: To avoid feeling let down, consider what you expect from yourself and others without expecting too much.
- Do not overdo it: It is easy to want to do as much as you can during the holiday season. It is okay to scale things down and still enjoy the holidays by limiting what you will do.
- Put yourself and your needs first: There is only so much you can do in a day. Set time aside each day for personal care, hobbies, and things you enjoy. If that means skipping family gatherings, holiday parties, and other social events, then skip them. You don’t need to feel guilty about it; your friends and family should understand.
- Find a support group: Reaching out to support groups is a great way to form social relationships with people who are experiencing similar feelings throughout the holidays.
- Consider professional treatment: There are a variety of mental health resources available such as TMS therapy and other psychiatry treatments can help you maintain your mental health during the holidays. Being proactive about your mental health can be beneficial to help prevent an anxiety or depression relapse.
What Can You Do if You Experience a Symptom Relapse?
If you notice you are experiencing anxiety, loneliness, or depression this fall and winter, it is crucial not to let it become the focal point of your holidays. If you are already receiving some form of ongoing care, consider increasing the number of sessions to provide the additional support you need.
If you or a loved one is experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health symptoms call Neuro Wellness Spa to learn more about our treatment options. If you have not tried TMS therapy or other forms of psychiatry and mental health treatment, our expert team of clinicians would be more than happy to walk you through your journey toward mental wellness.