Christmas, holidays, and the festive season can come with visions of perfect, happy families enjoying celebrations, days off, and gifts together, but this is not the reality for many of us.
The global pandemic and the social and financial stresses of 2021 have added an additional tier of complexity for those already experiencing anxiety, depression, and mental health concerns.
Sometimes called a ‘seasonal disorder’, festive season anxiety may be impacting increasing numbers of people, based on the mental health statistics of 2021.
In the four weeks to 27 June, 2021 the Australian Government funded 1.1 million MBS-subsidised mental health-related services, an increase of 4.1% and 13.9% on the same time in 2020 and 2019 respectively. Given that Christmas is of the most stressful times of the year, it’s expected that the demand for these services in December 2021 will rise on 2020 and 2019 levels.
“Many people feel a huge amount of pressure to put on a happy face around Christmas and the end of the year,” The Banyans Health and Wellness Clinical Director Peter Hayton says. “Trying to meet others’ expectations, especially family, can be anxiety-inducing at Christmas. This often leads to excessive alcohol and drug use, along with anti-social and damaging behaviours.”
If you are feeling more disconnected than ever before, you are not alone.
With anxiety disorders the most common mental health condition in Australia, and with one in three women (30%) and one in five men (20%) living with anxiety symptoms, the need for support is forecast to jump this year.
Anxiety and holidays
“The festive season has always brought about increased levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness, but merge that with the fears surrounding the pandemic, financial pressures of 2021, and not being with loved ones interstate or overseas, and there is a very real risk that Christmas this year may be a tipping point in our mental health crisis,” says Peter.
How do you recognise and manage festive season anxiety and depression symptoms?
“Although the borders are starting to open, this also brings with it a whole new level of stress and anxiety for some people. Those who very happily have not had to deal with their family or in-laws over the last couple of years are now having to face the reality of judgment and misunderstanding, while others will find that their families are not prepared to be vaccinated or to travel to spend time with them. “
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The mental health impact of grief and sadness at this time of year is also immense, with those who have lost a loved one this year feeling the loss deeply, and those who have lost someone around Christmas experiencing even more intense emotions. Those that are estranged from their families also feel a heightened sense of loss around Christmas.
Christmas can heighten the sense of loss of a loved one, or a sense of grief, anxiety and depression about the difficulties of the past year.
‘The difference in 2021 is that all age groups and generations have been impacted, albeit differently, by the pandemic. Something that has caused great anxiety for one member of the family may be dismissed by another, causing emotional distance and resentment,” says Peter. “No generation can fully support another because they have no real understanding of how the other is feeling, having not experienced it themselves.”
Holidays and Seasonal Anxiety
Here are some signs that anxiety or depression are ruling your holiday season:
- Worry is stopping you living your life the way you’d like to live it and enjoying any breaks you may have.
- Anxiety stops you moving forward. It can stop you organising, gifting, or thinking of others. It’s a problem when it stops you enjoying a break, starting a hobby, or travelling.
- Anxiety is impacting your work or your attempts to gain employment.
- If you don’t stop working, and you use tasks, jobs, and responsibilities as an excuse not to stop and relax. Anxiety can rob you of rejuvenating time doing something you enjoy.
- You believe you are not as capable or qualified in your career as people perceive you to be. This belief, known as “Imposter Syndrome” can create anxiety.
- You procrastinate excessively and avoid tasks.
- You overthink and worry constantly.
- You haven’t had fun in the last two weeks.
- You’ve forgotten how to have fun.
- Achievements don’t give you a sense of accomplishment.
- You are constantly agitated and restless.
If you are living with anxiety, holidays and a lack of structure can increase your anxiety levels considerably. Spending time with animals can help decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Looking after your mental health
How to deal with anxiety in the festive season:
- Recognise and acknowledge that it’s been a stressful year, and that’s okay.
- Be grateful for what you have. Journalling can help you list and reflect on what you have in your life to be grateful for.
- Drink in moderation, or not at all. Alcohol contributes to stress, anxiety and depression. If you’re drinking to cope, it indicates there’s a problem.
- Avoid drugs, as they can also be used as a harmful coping mechanism, and can lead to stress, anxiety and depression, and even greater harms.
Try to avoid known triggers. If your family fights about COVID-19 vaccinations, try not to bring it up or steer the conversation in another direction.
- Interact with animals. Ten minutes of interaction with cats and dogs produces a significant reduction in cortisol, a major stress hormone.
- If you are experiencing loneliness:
- Connect as much as you can, and as much as you can manage with family and friends. If it’s not in person, catch up via Zoom, Facetime, or over the phone.
- Help someone else in need by volunteering your time. Not only do you meet new people, you will feel a sense of ‘accomplishment’ when you do something for someone else.
- Make plans for Christmas Day. They don’t have to be Christmassy plans – just make sure you have a plan of how you will spend your day. If you are by yourself, think of something you love to do. Getting out in nature always improves mood, so go for a bushwalk or listen to hours of your favourite music. There are no rules. Give yourself a Christmas gift of doing something YOU love to do.
- Eat healthily – eating and drinking healthily may improve some of the symptoms of mental health disorders in the immediate term, but unhealthy eating and drinking habits are likely to make anxiety symptoms and depression symptoms worse in the long term.
- Get enough sleep – Schedule some extra sleep time. Allow yourself more sleep at this time of the year, if you can. The greatest gift you can give yourself now is rest.
- Exercise – any type of exercise will increase your endorphins and assist with the regulation of mood – even a half-hour walk will help you feel better.
- Less screen time – excessive screen time is reported to be associated with a range of negative mental health outcomes such as psychological problems, low emotional stability, and greater risk of depression or anxiety.
The Banyans Health and Wellness Residence is a place to rest and refresh after a difficult year when many people have experienced depression and anxiety.
Anxiety and depression support
Seek help. Talk to your General Practitioner. GPs in Australia can provide assistance consistent with the principles and actions of psychological first aid to people who are experiencing anxiety and depression. They can assist you in reducing initial distress and will provide support to promote adaptive coping practices.
The Banyans Health and Wellness is open throughout the Christmas and New Year period and can help you or a loved one when experiencing anxiety, depression, chronic stress, addiction, PTSD, and other co-occurring conditions.
The Banyans Health and Wellness is a private treatment centre working with people experiencing an anxiety disorder, chronic stress, addiction, PTSD, and other co-occurring conditions.
Our holistic approach incorporates medical, psychological, and natural therapies to ensure highest standard of research-based treatment and support while helping you develop a plan for recovery.
The Banyans Health and Wellness is available 24/7 to help you begin your journey towards a life with positive mental health. You can call anytime on +61 1300 226 926 or submit an online enquiry to begin learning how we can help you rediscover the fullness of life.