Why Does Your Mental Health Get Worse Around Christmas?
Mental health issues are a year-round struggle. Yet, many individuals notice their mental health take a dive for the worse during the holiday season.
While you might think it’s a time of cheer and quality family time (which it is!) - there are numerous stressors, pressures, and expectations that come with the territory. These stressors act as triggers for many mental health issues - including depression and anxiety.
Understanding these triggers and preparing for them can help you deal and minimize their effects. So, what exactly are the most common triggers?
It’s hard to get a step ahead when you’re entering the New Year carrying the financial hangover from Christmas. Everything adds up - gifts, decorations, outfits, food, and more.
It can trigger your anxiety or depression before and after Christmas. You stress about the money you supposedly have to spend and you stress about the repercussions afterwards. Come January, you’re struggling to just make ends meet.
Mind, a mental health charity, took a survey of people who struggle during the holidays. 41% of these people worried about financial debt. In other words, you aren’t alone on this one.
And there are ways to avoid breaking the bank. Set a budget - what can you afford? What can’t you? Then, stick to your budget. Or give something other than the regular pricey gifts. For example, homemade baked goods or quality time are just as valuable. It really is the thought that counts.
Feelings of Loneliness
In the same study by Mind, 83% of people admitted to feeling lonely during the festive season. Most people spend time with their family and friends. But the hard truth of it all is that not every person has someone to spend the holidays with. In addition, the recent loss of a friend or family member can make the holidays increasingly more difficult. You think about them more and what they are missing.
Plus, all the holiday gatherings and events can make you feel like you should be socializing more. It adds layers of expectations. These expectations and feelings of loneliness can amplify depression and anxiety symptoms.
A 2014 study narrowed in on how loneliness can lead to a decline in your mental health and wellbeing. Researchers noted that loneliness can not only impact your mental health, but can also have negative physical repercussions. The study emphasized the importance of social interactions and relationships. It also explored how loneliness may lead to mental health issues - but mental health issues may also lead to loneliness. The 2 are interconnected.
And while simply socializing isn’t the ultimate answer, it might help. Say yes to that next Christmas party invite. Or even host a party yourself. But make sure to balance it out with necessary downtime. Do what’s best for you and your life.
A Chaotic Schedule
The month of December rolls around and it feels like almost every weekend there is something. A holiday party, maybe a birthday, Christmas shopping, another holiday party, family in town, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years… It goes on and on. And you may struggle to find balance.
Sometimes you just need to breathe. It’s okay to say no to the piles of parties. Take the necessary time for yourself.
Big social gatherings may further heighten anxiety symptoms. You have to decide what to wear, make pleasant conversation - it can be a huge trigger for some people. In Mind’s survey, they found that 60% of people with mental health issues suffered panic attacks over the holidays.
Again, make sure you find a balance that works best for you. Don’t let your mental health suffer just because you feel the need to show up at that big office holiday party.
Social media gets flooded with holidays pictures from ugly sweater parties to big gifts. It can definitely take a hit at your self-esteem. It makes it seem like everyone else is having a perfect Christmas - so what are you doing wrong? You start comparing. Ultimately, this leads down a slippery slope - one which you should try to avoid if you can.
Consider really emphasizing what the holiday season is all about. Take a detox from social media. You don’t need it! Instead, focus on friends, family, giving, and being thankful for this life and all it has to offer.
Also, here’s a friendly reminder: No one has the ‘perfect’ Christmas and photos only show one side of the whole story. They capture a moment - and sometimes, it’s not entirely accurate. Also, ‘perfect’ is different for everyone. Just enjoy this time and don’t strive for perfection - strive for a nice time filled with the people you love or the activities you cherish.
It’s darker. It’s colder. The winter isn’t exactly supporting good mental health. You get less sunshine. You get outside less and less. And if you go for long periods without sunshine, it impacts your mood - science proves this! Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. And unfortunately, it can become a recurring event.
So, what do you do? Getting outside more during daylight hours can help! There are also various lamps that can decrease the impact that a lack of sunshine has on your mood.
Overindulging in Alcohol & Food
With more social occasions, alcoholic drinks and great eats are in abundance. Yet, alcohol acts as a depressant. It can decrease sleep quality. In turn, you don’t feel all that great - especially the day after. There’s also a ton of food - making it very tempting to overdo it. Feelings of guilt may follow.
Instead, stick to everything in moderation. Plan ahead how many glasses of alcohol you’re going to drink (if any - you don’t have to drink!). And listen to your body as you eat. Eat mindfully and slowly.
Take Care of Your Mental Health This Holiday Season
Mental health issues are tough on their own - minus the holiday pressures. Do what’s best for you. Your health matters. Know your boundaries and your limits. Plan ahead and take proper care of yourself. You can’t give your best if you aren’t feeling our best. Find the balance that you need.