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4 Common Mental and Emotional Issues During the Holidays

It’s hard to have a holly, jolly Christmas when nearly 1 in 5 adults struggles with mental and emotional issues. Discover which ones are most common during the holiday season.

Shorter days and plummeting temperatures indicate the holiday season is finally here. But this most wonderful time of the year isn’t all mistletoe and jingle bells for everyone. The holidays can also trigger a range of mental and emotional issues.

The holiday blues are very much a real phenomenon. There is a lot of societal pressure for people to act merry and celebratory around the clock. Although many put on a happy face to spread good tidings and cheer, it’s often a mask. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 24% of adults diagnosed with a mental illness say their condition is “a lot” worse during the holidays. Another 40% experience “somewhat” worsening symptoms.

Are you affected by the Holidays?

Here are some of the most common issues that arise during the holiday season:

1) Increased Stress

Spending time with friends and family over the holidays should be relaxing, but that’s not always the case. Deadlines, extensive traveling, party planning, and expensive shopping lists keep people up at night. The holidays and stress are practically synonymous with each other. While this season is a joyous time for most, the American Psychological Association states that nearly 38% of adults report increased stress levels.

Holiday-related stress manifests in a variety of ways. Spiking blood pressure and a racing heart are both very common. Migraines and stomachaches may also occur. Sudden insomnia can even leave someone tossing and turning all night long. Additionally, they may also experience:

  • Chest pain
  • Muscle tension
  • TMJ symptoms
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Anger
  • Weak immune system
  • Anxiety

What causes these reactions? Some people don’t have enough hours in a day to finish their to-do lists. Others agonize over finances and buying expensive gifts. They may even fret about taking time off work. These stressors compound with time, making it impossible to enjoy the season.

2) Worsening Anxiety

Everyone experiences anxiety on occasion. It’s normal to worry about things out of your control. However, the holiday season often exacerbates these feelings. Instead of enjoying time with loved ones, too many people dwell on the small details. Perfectionism peaks during this time of year. There is an overwhelming urge to be the best at everything. Idealized social media posts only further intensify anxious tendencies.

Social anxiety is also widespread during the holidays. This condition affects 15 million adults in the US each year, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Those with social anxiety disorder may experience:

  • Nervousness
  • Panic attacks
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Blushing
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Digestive issues
  • Tachycardia
  • Depression
  • Fear

An influx of seasonal gatherings and unfamiliar faces only intensifies these symptoms. Those with social anxiety may find it difficult to talk to groups, eat in front of others, meet people, or visit new places. And since the holidays are a time for socializing, they may avoid celebrating altogether.

3) Depression

Depressive thoughts and feelings increase during the holidays. The World Health Organization reports that depression affects approximately 280 million people globally. Those with clinical depression are more likely to experience worsening symptoms from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. Even those without a diagnosis may deal with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the holidays. Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Sudden outbursts and uncontrollable irritability
  • Unexplained loss of interest in usual activities
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Physical pain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Why does the holiday season cause a spike in depression? Shorter days mean less sunshine. Reduced sunlight causes a decrease in serotonin, also known as the “feel-good” hormone. Interestingly, some people with SAD produce more melatonin during the winter. Too much of this sleep hormone may be responsible for reduced energy levels. Although temporary, SAD can be just as devastating as clinical depression.

The holidays are also a time of reflection. Unfortunately, not all memories are happy ones. Remembering sad events may reopen still healing wounds. Spending the season alone after losing a loved one might send a person into a downward spiral. Others may feel depressed due to another year of unmet goals or feelings of inadequacy. Even not having enough money to buy gifts can trigger seasonal depression.

4) Relationship Challenges

Relationships fall into four categories: family, friends, lovers, and acquaintances. Regardless of the type, they are never easy. Problems can arise at any time. And when they do, it can put a damper on holiday celebrations.

The holidays should be a time of goodwill and cheer. Spending time with loved ones conjures images of roasting chestnuts over an open fire. Everything is peaceful, serene, and full of love—at least that’s what every Hallmark movie portrays. But that’s not always the case. In the real world, relationships are sometimes difficult to navigate. There may be layers of hurt or resentment resting below the surface. These hidden feelings are just waiting for a catalyst to explode.

Being in close quarters with relatives can send a person over the edge. Even pretending to like all your coworkers at the office Christmas party is often too much to handle. Pretty soon, the holiday gathering turns into a bickering match. Common relationship conflicts include:

  • Finances
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Decision-making
  • Unclear expectations
  • Poor communication

Although it’s tempting to sweep these challenges under the rug, it’s better to resolve them. Talking about relationship issues can be uncomfortable. But it could be the difference between celebrating the holidays with a forced smile or a genuine one.

The Risks of Holiday Mental Issues

During the happiest time of the year, no one wants to admit they’re struggling mentally. Instead of seeking help, some people use risky methods to cope. The most common—and most dangerous—are:

Drinking Alcohol

A champagne toast is a regular occurrence during a holiday celebration. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the occasional alcoholic beverage. But drinking is never a healthy coping mechanism. Some signs of alcoholism include:

  • Unable to limit alcohol consumption
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms between binges
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Avoiding friends and family who don’t drink
  • Failing to meet work or home obligations

Alcoholism is a deadly disease. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction, around 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. Alcoholics develop many preventable health problems. These include liver disease, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. And without proper treatment, it’s difficult to quit.

Using Drugs

Drug use increases during the holidays. Many start experimenting with drugs to overcome the stresses of the season. This unfortunate trend leads to a rise in both DUIs and overdoses. Ironically, addicts never try drugs intending to get hooked. But all it takes is one hit to become addicted.

What is the allure of drugs? Both illicit and prescription drugs promise users a way to escape reality. For a brief moment, they can forget their troubles. But the high they achieve is short-lived. As they dive deeper into addiction, it takes higher doses to experience the same sensations again. It’s also dangerous. The health risks of using drugs include:

  • Liver disease
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Lung damage
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Death

While some people start using to escape mental illness, they usually find their addiction worsens these conditions. Getting off drugs requires determination and guidance. It’s common for users to experience frightening withdrawal symptoms as they quit. Most people can’t do it on their own and need a counselor to lead the way.

Controlling Food

The holidays are a time for indulgence. Nearly every gathering features a buffet of savory dishes and tasty treats. But not everyone will partake in these feasts. Those dealing with emotional disturbances may struggle with eating disorders instead. Signs of an eating disorder include:

  • Meal skipping
  • Unreasonable food restrictions
  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Jaundice skin
  • Dizziness when standing
  • Feeling cold
  • Dental problems
  • Muscle weakness

Anorexia and bulimia develop for different reasons. In many instances, these disorders begin as a way to lose weight. Society pressures people to maintain a certain body image. Instead of developing a healthy relationship with food and exercise, some people view calories as the enemy. A dangerous cycle of starving, bingeing, and purging overtakes their lives. It’s difficult to overcome an eating disorder without treatment, and relapses are common during the holidays.

Contemplating Self-Harm or Suicide

Mental and emotional issues are more challenging to manage during the holidays for some people. Instead of talking about their problems, they turn to self-harm. A person may begin cutting themselves as a way to cope. They may even experience suicidal thoughts. Warning signs someone is suicidal may include:

  • Expressing extreme guilt or shame
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Viewing themselves as a burden to others
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Experiencing severe depression or anxiety
  • Displaying sudden mood swings
  • Engaging in dangerous activities

Although suicide may feel like the only way out, it’s never the solution. Suicide is permanent. There are no do-overs. Treating the underlying cause for these feelings can give someone a renewed sense of purpose and desire to live.

Compassionate Counseling for the Holidays

Mental illness is present throughout the year, but many people find it worsens during the holidays. The pressure to throw the best party and find the perfect gift makes it hard to enjoy the festivities. Too many people end up feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. As a result, they may cope with risky behaviors.

New Life 360° offers a healthier solution. Our counselors understand the added pressures of the holiday season. We offer counseling for addiction, relationships, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, grief, and more. Our holistic approach integrates a variety of therapies to promote better healing. It’s our goal to take the stigma out of mental issues.

Tired of feeling blue around the holidays? Schedule a consultation to discover how we can help you overcome mental and emotional issues this season.