By DR. JAMES E. HUSSEY | Medical Director, LDH Office of Behavioral Health
Holidays are often seen as a time of celebration, family gatherings, gift-giving, joy and other happy moments. But, for some, it is a time of additional stress, anxiety, blues or depression. In one survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 38% responded that their stress levels increased during holidays (including lack of time, money, commercialism, gift pressures) and 56% responded that they experience most stress at work (only 29% at home).
There may be several reasons why people become more anxious, sad or depressed during the holidays:
- SOCIAL ISOLATION: Those with small social circles or minimal family support due to few or no relatives living close by sometimes begin to feel lonely, unsupported, and left out and isolated. Winter/cold/bad weather also contributes to staying inside.
- GRIEVING: For those gathering with relatives, they may become more aware of those who are no longer part of the gatherings or celebrations due to severe illness or death during the prior year.
- INCREASED WORK DEMANDS: With holidays, vacations, end-of-year deadlines, reports, taxes and other demands, there can be real increases in work demands, leading to stress and anxiety.
- FINANCIAL STRESS: Money issues can become very obvious during holidays. Finding the money to provide gifts for everyone is stressful. Worries about debt or not providing enough for family, kids and others can lead to despair, sadness, depression and anxiety. Maybe as many as 53% of people report this as a source of stress, according to a Principal Financial Group survey.
- SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER/DEPRESSION (MAJOR DEPRESSION WITH SEASONAL PATTERN): It should be noted that there are depressive episodes that can go beyond the blues, become more sustained, and sometimes occur more frequently during the fall and develop during the winter. Most people stop having these symptoms during the spring and summer, but some may persist. This may have to do with the length of the days being shorter, decreased exposure to light or other factors. For more severe symptoms of depression, treatment should be sought, such as light therapy, talk therapy or medications.
- HEALTH AND WELLNESS: Overeating, weight gain and bloating can be problematic for some.
Dealing with holiday depression
- Talk to your doctor if dealing with depression or sadness for long periods of time, or if it begins to affect your functioning, activities of daily living, appetite or sleep, or if suicidal thoughts come into play.
- There are resource help lines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255) and the Crisis Text Line (www.crisistextline.org). For emergencies, call 911.
- Make sure you get enough sleep.
- Eat healthy.
- Exercise 30 minutes per day (if tolerated).
- Continue or begin new holiday traditions like family gatherings, outings or vacations instead of staying home.
- Be mindful of holiday pressures.
- Volunteer at soup kitchens, church activities, gift drives, helping elderly neighbors with yard tasks, etc.
- Get back to nature with walks in the woods, parks along a lakeshore, etc.
Contrary to popular belief, suicides do NOT spike during holidays. November, December and January are actually low months for suicide. Peak months may be more like April through August.