From mid-November through the end of the year, the biggest health worry people for many people is what is going to happen to their waistline thanks to all the holiday goodies.
However, there is another health concern that is often overlooked: behavioral health. And not just run-of-the-mill holiday stress.
Feelings of depression and anxiety can be amplified during this time of the year, even for those who typically don’t struggle with these issues.
“The holidays have all the right ingredients to be one of the most difficult and stressful times of the year,” says Josh Martak, MD, a family medicine physician on the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie medical staff.
Between the financial pressures of the holidays, getting together with people who may bring out strong emotions, the hassle associated with potential travel and all the other expectations surrounding the holidays, feeling more blue than red and green can be natural. Add to it the memories of family and friends who are no longer with us, and it can be almost overwhelming.
MANY NAMES, COMMON THREADS
The holiday blues, social isolation and seasonal affective disorder are part of the continuum of depression and anxiety issues some people experience around the holidays. Being inundated with television shows and commercials showing the warmth, happiness and ease of the holidays can even exacerbate feelings of sadness.
Regardless of the name, there are symptoms people should watch for and address, including:
- Loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable/routine
- Less energy
- Withdrawing from other people
“It’s ok to take time for yourself – and in fact, during the holidays you should. But if the sadness or anxiety is taking over and getting you out of your normal routine, then it may be time to go see your primary care doctor or find one,” says Dr. Martak.”
Friends and family also can play a key role by watching out for these symptoms in loved ones and intervening. Openly discussing – or asking about – potential behavioral health issues doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that it once did.
“The biggest thing friends and family can do is to talk about it,” advises Dr. Martak. “It’s not a fun conversation to have, but ask if everything is ok or make plans to do something with them that may lead to a conversation later on.”
GIVE YOURSELF A PRESENT
It may not be possible to ever have a holiday without the extra stress, pressure and demands on both time and money. But there are ways to prevent or minimize feelings of depression and anxiety that accompany all the magic of the season.
Dr. Martak makes the following recommendations:
- Set realistic expectations and know it will be ok if everything doesn’t go according to plan.
- Make plans ahead of time to do things you enjoy throughout the season.
- Make time to grieve and reflect on the loss of loved ones.
- Talk about any struggles with family, friends, your doctor or in a group therapy session (whatever makes you most comfortable).
- Take time to focus on you.
“Realize it’s ok to say ‘no’ to certain things,” says Dr. Martak. “Take some time to focus on yourself. It’s alright.”
In fact, that advice may not only help lead to a happier holiday season, but make for great new year’s resolution as well.