Holidays should be joyous times filled with family and friends, but sometimes they can also trigger old fears, hurts, and anxieties. Here’s how to stay mentally fit during the “silly” season.
Can you believe the holidays are just around the corner again? Regardless of your religious affiliation, the holiday season usually inspires feelings of fun, warmth and belonging. But for some people, this time of year can evoke feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Rather than being a period of happiness and goodwill, for these people the holidays can be a source of sadness, depression or anger, stirring up a lot of unresolved emotions and feelings. If you have lost a loved one, for example, the holiday season may evoke feelings of intense grief.
Why it’s hard to stay sane
“Unhappiness during the festive period usually comes from two main sources,” says Tony de Gouveia, clinical psychologist at Akeso Alberton. “On a physical level, due to the use of alcohol, lots of unhealthy food, long distance travelling and too much exposure to the sun, your body may be at risk for the rest of the year.
“On a psychological level, you may be exposed to the annual round of toxic relationships as families come together to celebrate. Many can probably relate to the uncle, aunt or in-law who literally spoils the entire holiday experience thanks to their nasty way of interacting. The manipulation and abuse may be mental, physical, sexual, verbal or emotional.”
What the stats show
While there is no clear increase in rates or intensity of depression or suicide around national holidays, participating in holiday traditions may be difficult for people with mental illness, De Gouveia says. A survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) uncovered some interesting data about the holiday blues.
While the majority of people in the survey reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays, those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.
38% of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors as lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.
Surprisingly, 56% of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work. Only 29% experienced greater amounts of stress at home.1
“Another poll of more than 1 000 adults by a global investment company found that 53% of people experience financial stress due to holiday over-spending, despite the fact that more than half had set budgets in place for the festive season,” he says.
Avoiding risks and relapses during the silly season
People with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions need to view the festive season as “code red”: a high-alert time because of all the potential triggers that are to be found in abundance during this period.
“Parties and general festivities provide plenty of opportunities to consume alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and other substances, or to go to the nearest casino looking for that stroke of luck” he says. “The risks are many. If you suffer from any of these addictions, it may be preferable to lie low or only participate minimally in the festivities. That in itself is a tall order for anyone who has problems with self-control and discipline.”
Holiday survival tips
De Gouveia suggests several ways in which you can make the most of the holidays:
Make a to-do list of everything you need to do and when you need to do it.
Avoid too many commitments. Remember, you can’t be everywhere at the same time, so be honest and reasonable about what you can handle, and speak up if it’s too much.
Set a holiday budget. Take some time to think about all your expenses and decide exactly how much you will spend.
Ask friends or family for help. If you start feeling the pressure, consider enlisting some friends or family to help you out.
Avoid family conflict. We all have family members who push our buttons. Try avoiding certain topics and removing yourself from the conversation if things go south.
Don’t overeat. And remember to exercise.
Have plenty of downtime. Make time to enjoy the things you love. Read a book, watch your favourite TV show, or just slow down.
“It can be really helpful to set your expectations upfront, to establish boundaries around what is acceptable behaviour by family members, and exercising the option of time-out should those boundaries be crossed,”says De Gouveia.
A final note: There is a difference between the holiday blues, which typically go away when the holiday season ends, and more severe depression, which lasts longer and interferes with activities of daily living. “If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to consult with a mental health or medical professional,” he advises.
If you or someone you know is experiencing severe depression and you require help, contact Akeso Clinics on 0861 4357 87.