With Christmas and New Year approaching, the holidays are often seen as a time of peace, joy and family gatherings. Families, friends and loved ones create memories of happy moments, eating tasty food and treats, as well as spending time with friends and loved ones.
But that idyllic image is often not a reality for many people struggling with stress and their own mental health during what’s supposed to be a time of joy.
“Mental health challenges do not necessarily increase around the holidays, but everyone experiences this time of year differently,” says Dr. Jonathan Kirsten, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.
“This may be the first holiday season without a loved one who died during the COVID pandemic. It may be a time of struggle for those with drug and alcohol addiction. It may be a time of loneliness. Convention tells us we’re expected to be merry and thankful, but many people may feel very differently.”
In addition, Dr. Kirsten notes the holiday season brings about unique stressors. They include travel, the financial burden of buying gifts, the pressures of hosting, and uncomfortable and sometimes tense encounters with family members.
“These holiday difficulties on top of ongoing personal challenges can have a profound impact on one’s mental health,” Dr. Kirsten explains.
Below are tips for maintaining good mental health during the holidays, according to Dr. Kirsten:
— Avoid isolating, and instead try to spend time with family and friends. Whether you’re a social butterfly or prefer small get-togethers, any type of socialization improves mental health.
— Use alcohol responsibly. Many people celebrate the holidays by enjoying a few drinks. However, excessive alcohol use can cause and worsen mental illness. If intoxicated, get home safely by a car service or a sober friend. Never risk driving while intoxicated.
— Avoid marijuana/THC/cannabis. Even though cannabis is legal in California, it actually can worsen symptoms of depression and anxiety. In some cases, it can even cause severe psychiatric symptoms such as hallucinations and mania.
— Seek Mental Health Services if you are experiencing depression, anxiety, addiction, or other mental health problems. Don’t be afraid to ask your medical provider for help.
“The holidays are a time of joy,” Dr. Kirsten noted. “However, avoid putting too much pressure on yourself that can have an adverse effect on your mental health. Caring for our mental health will help ensure that we are in a good state-of-mind as we begin the New Year.”