With the holiday season in full swing, so is the stress that comes with it! Entertaining guests, financial constraints, social obligations, spending more money than your comfortable with, and feelings of loneliness can make the holiday season more of an anxiety-whirlwind than a jovial and enjoyable affair.
The holiday season has an impact on the mental health of adolescent and adult populations. There is a U-shaped curve that happens in psychotic episodes and psychiatric emergency room hospitalizations during the Christmas season1. Cases of psychotic episodes and emergency room hospitalization for self-harm behavior and suicide attempts actually decreases during the weeks leading up to the holidays1- a testament to the unadulterated joy that humanity shares in the weeks between Thanksgiving and the New Year. However, there is a subsequent rise in patients admitted to the hospital for psychiatric events of similar magnitude directly following the holiday season. This shows that the holidays have a protective effect on psychological well-being.
However, this protective effect is an outward illusion of cheer and joyousness projected onto our inner selves, a temporary state that disappears once the holiday season is over. After the holidays, there is a well-documented rebound effect that shows increased psychological sequelae and hospitalizations in susceptible people. This raises concern for people already at risk for self-harm and suicidal behavior prior to the weeks leading up to the holiday season.1 It is important to be aware of this and intervene with coping mechanisms to bypass the holiday-season-high comedown. Furthermore, supplementing with vitamin D may help curtail depression that accompanies the post-holiday blues through the winter months. Supplementation with at least 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 will increase your blood levels and lower your risk for seasonal affective disorder.
Although psychiatric events are low during the holidays, cases of depression are still present and sometimes even higher, especially in those that don’t have close relationships with friends or family members1. These individuals may feel as though they are “missing out” or that everybody around them is having a good time engaging in loving relationships except for them. This is simply not true, but the individual’s perception of the holiday season can send them into spiraling feelings of loneliness and solitude. For this reason, an individual that spends the holiday season by themselves should focus on increasing their self-care routine around through activities that bring them joy, getting enough sleep, healthy eating, mindful walking, yoga, meditation, exercise, and practicing gratitude1,2.
This year especially, friends and family may be spending time in quarantine or isolation due to coronavirus restrictions. Reach out to them, tell them they are loved and missed dearly. A simple phone call or text can make a world of difference when a person feels their presence and well-being has not been forgotten.
With the anxiety and worry that surround the holiday season, it is no doubt that alcohol intake increases during this time. Whether it’s to relax or calm the anxiety that comes with being around family, alcohol is often the substance of choice to dim the stressors that accompany the holiday. This is noteworthy because the number of alcohol-related deaths increases during the holiday season.1 In addition, drinking an excess on a particular occasion, especially for someone that rarely drinks, can trigger cardiac abnormalities. This is so common around the holiday season that it actually coined the term, “holiday heart syndrome”2. For this reason, responsible drinking should be advised, and a means of transportation should be pre-determined before the events of the day(s).
Instead of indulging in alcohol, consider having true and authentic conversations with your family members. Catch up with one another, connect, stay present, share a laugh, or shed a tear together. Now more than ever we need to hold space for the ones that we love most, free of judgement especially at the end of such a difficult year.
1. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. The christmas effect on psychopathology. Innov Clin Neurosci. 2011;8(12):10-13.
2. Lushniak BD. Surgeon general's perspectives. Public Health Rep. 2013;128(6):434-435. doi:10.1177/003335491312800602