While most holidays are a time to be cheerful, for many it is ironically when their mental health is most likely to take a hit. Contrary to what one might expect, several studies have confirmed the holidays are an especially sensitive time for people with recurring mental health issues like depression, PTSD, and substance use disorder.
These studies are backed up by real-world experiences. Emergency rooms here in Dallas often encounter significant increases in admissions and inquiries during the holiday season. The rise of substance-related admissions for emergency rooms rises enough during the holidays to warrant additional shifts to meet the uptick in demand.
Below are some key recurring mental health risks that often come up during the holidays. If you feel that you or a close family member is vulnerable to these seasonal risks, please seek professional help immediately. If you’re in North Texas, be sure to check out this resource to find an inpatient drug rehab Dallas, TX residents trust.
1.) Binge Drinking
It may come as no surprise that some people are more prone to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol during the holidays. What you may not realize is that this binge drinking comes at a real societal cost in terms of a predictable rise in accidents, violence, and suicides. A significant proportion of emergency room visits during the holidays are directly or indirectly related to alcohol misuse.
What’s more, binge drinking can exacerbate preexisting mental health issues, in which case an occasional drinker may often pose a serious risk to themselves and other people. People with alcohol use disorders likewise face a significant increase in their risk of self-harm during the holiday season, especially if they have co-morbid mental health issues.
2.) Drug Use
Rates of illicit drug used to be difficult to track in local populations. However, thanks to wastewater testing, it’s now possible to figure out what kinds of drugs people are using and when they use them. A study of wastewater in Kentucky shows the use of all illicit drugs and prescription medications rising on weekends and going up significantly during holidays. This suggests a type of substance use behavior similar to that seen in binge drinking.
As with occasional heavy alcohol use, binging on drugs can raise one’s risk of exacerbating other health issues and may be a sign of a serious substance use disorder.
3.) Trauma Triggers
The US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has recognized that the holidays are an especially critical time for people with trauma. People who have experienced or are currently experiencing homelessness, violence, sexual abuse, and social isolation are much more likely to encounter trauma triggers during the holidays, leading to an increase in substance misuse and self-harm.
Understanding your trauma is key to working through them. Getting professional help and investing in self-care before the holidays can help mitigate some of the worst effects of seasonal trauma triggers.
4.) Anxiety and Panic Attacks
The holidays can be a major source of stress and anxiety. Holidays gone wrong are a recurring theme in popular movies, perhaps a testament to how stressed out we can get during this time of the year.
Stressors are not necessarily the same for everyone, but the holiday season offers a wide selection. Meeting family members one dislikes, travel stress, constant pressure to be at one’s best, and unfinished professional obligations are just a few of the many things that cause anxiety for Americans during the holidays.
Unfortunately, these stressors can compound and worsen one’s mood, potentially leading to substance misuse, overeating, and other unhealthy coping behaviors. People with underlying anxiety issues may even experience panic attacks as a result of these seasonal issues. Seeing a counselor and regularly practicing self-care can help prevent or mitigate these problems.
5.) Social Isolation
The pandemic has already taken a serious toll on our collective mental health, thanks to our greatly reduced social contact. People who are already experiencing loneliness and isolation due to the pandemic or other factors may have these feelings further intensify during the holidays, especially if they are still unable to spend time with their loved ones.
As with the other mental health issues we discussed, these feelings may leave a person vulnerable to unhealthy coping strategies. Taking the time to regularly socialize with others personally or through virtual means when warranted can prevent these issues from becoming more serious when the holidays roll along.
Take Care of Your Mental Health Today
Practicing self-care and maintaining your emotional and psychological well-being is key to avoiding potentially catastrophic mental health issues during the holidays. By taking time to perform regular mental health hygiene on normal days, you can ensure that the emotional baggage that often comes with the holidays is far more manageable.
It’s important to note that not all forms of self-care are appropriate for every case. Consulting with a qualified counselor is an excellent first step that will help you save time when determining which strategies will work for you or a loved one. Good luck!