Mental Health and the Holiday Season
By Susanna Penfield
According to a survey conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% find their condition “somewhat” worse. An additional 40% of undiagnosed adults report feelings of social anxiety during this time, and approximately 75% of the overall respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction.
It is important to note that these feelings, colloquially known as “the holiday blues,” are different from mental illness. However, despite the relative brevity of holiday-related lows, short term mental health troubles, such as those that occur between November and New Year’s, are valid and deserve to be both recognized and addressed.
While the months that both precede and surround any number of the upcoming holidays may often be characterized by celebration and happiness, for many they are also significant sources of stress and sadness. Through both internal and external pressure, we feel expected to participate in various activities that revolve around gift-giving and togetherness — activities such as shopping, cooking, socializing, or some combination thereof. However, it is these very festivities, intended to instill joy, that often bring out social insecurities, financial constraints, feeling of loneliness, or unwanted confrontations with the past. Common coping mechanisms, such as eating poorly and drinking excessively, exacerbate the stress and anxiety already attached to the holidays.
However, not all is doom and gloom. While acknowledging the possibility of heightened stress, the holidays can also be a beautiful time, rife with potential for interpersonal connectivity and individual reflection. Simply recognizing anxiety is the first step in creating a comprehensive plan for avoiding, or at least mitigating, the holiday blues.
Wherever you will be during the upcoming break, whether at home, with family or friends, traveling alone, or elsewhere, set a goal for your time. Goals may lay in areas such as relationships with others or with yourself — developing, rebuilding, or maintaining. They might also look like small personal achievements or activities. Once you have an idea of what you want from this time, brainstorm a series of steps that will take you there. In this process, identify any obstacles that might impede your ability to reach such goals. Roadblocks might include lack of social support, lack of reciprocity from others, lack of personal discipline, or triggering events and locations.
Identify the resources that will help you break through, or at least circumvent, these roadblocks — both on campus and at your respective holiday destinations. Set up an appointment at the counseling center before leaving, stop by the Wellness Resource Center for guidance on how to cope in specific situations, or meet with a mentor. Use these resources, available and free, to create a plan that will be executed upon leaving Colorado College. Holiday anxiety is normal, seasonal depression is real, and there are still ways to minimize the effects.