Mental health during holiday season

Chido Madzvamutse 

Mental Wellness

As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community. 

The end of the year holiday season can be a time of rest, reconnection with family and friends as well as celebration. However, holidays can also be stressful and can impact mental health in a negative way. As we start to bid each other “Happy Holidays”, it is important that we safeguard our mental well-being so that the holidays can be genuinely a happy experience. 

How can the holidays affect my  mental health?

 Social events: the holiday season often involves many social occasions and social demands from end of year office parties to family get togethers. 

We handle these social pressures differently depending on our temperament and personality. Extroverts may find the increased socialising of the holidays quite enjoyable and energising but even extroverts need to make time to be alone, to rest and reflect as part of maintaining mental well-being. 

Introverts may need more time alone to feel energised, however, they also need to make time to connect with friends and family as part of maintaining mental well-being.

 Financial pressure: Holidays are traditionally a season for giving. Giving to immediate and extended family, to co-workers and employees, to the wider community and those who are underprivileged. This can result in financial pressure beyond our capacity to meet it leading to unhealthy stress during the holidays and even after. 

 Loneliness and grief: While for many the holidays may mean spending time with family, friends and loved ones, for some this is not the case. For those with little or no family contact, those living and working far from home and far from family, the holidays may be a difficult time emotionally. For those still processing the loss of loved ones who have recently died, the holidays may bring back memories of previous happier times and this may reignite grief and cause much stress. 

How does my mental health influence the holidays? 

It has been found that the holiday season may result in worsening of symptoms in individuals with existing mental health challenges, particularly for those with limited support networks. 

For those with depression, it may be difficult to keep up with the festive mood. 

The low and irritable mood of depression, the fatigue and lack of motivation and drive seen in depression particularly poorly treated depression, can result in social withdrawal and not much merry making or celebration. 

This may be misunderstood by family and friends resulting in strain in relationships. Those with anxiety particularly social anxiety can find it difficult to keep up with social events. The holiday season is often characterised by much celebration and sadly accompanied with alcohol and substance abuse. For someone battling an alcohol and substance abuse problem, the holidays may become a season of great vulnerability. 

How can I manage my mental health during the holiday season?

1. Manage social events: It is important to be aware of our emotions and to be mindful of how the holidays may be affecting us. It is important to reconnect with family and loved ones but it is also important to also make time to rest, reflect and introspect. 

2. Managing your emotions: It is important that we be aware of our emotions and the emotional triggers that often occur during holidays and family meetings. We need to find healthy ways to express our emotions and have trusted people we can be vulnerable with and even reach out for professional support if needed. 

3. Avoid using alcohol and substances as coping mechanisms: even though the holidays may be stressful, it is best to avoid using alcohol and substances to cope. 

4. Manage financial pressure: Even in a season of giving, it is critical to manage our spending during the holiday season, to know our limitations and manage expectations of family and loved ones. 

5. If you are grieving, this may be an opportunity to find new ways of living without our loved ones, honouring their memory by continuing to live as fully as we can. 

As we approach the festive season it is important to be conscious of the stress that can come with the holiday season and to manage it to maintain our mental well-being and have truly happy holidays. 

If you think that you or someone you know may be struggling with a mental health challenge linked to the holiday season, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.

l Association of Health Care Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by Dr Chido Rwafa Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist.

Feedback: +263714987729) ( ; [email protected])

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