You clink your glass with the person standing beside you as the host recites a toast to being together. Everyone cheers and takes a sip in unison, reflecting on the past year and feeling grateful to be among loved ones. Scenes like this may seem familiar to many and with the holiday season in our midst may also be something in which many will take part in the near future. Indeed, many of us look forward to the holidays as a time of high spirits and celebration. Whether it is the annual traditions or the moments we spend with loved ones, the holiday season represents for many of us a meaningful and restful time of the year.
While the holidays can symbolize many positive things for our communities, they can also highlight a time of struggle as well. We often forget or even choose to ignore our difficulties and troubles for the sake of partaking in the holiday spirit. On the flipside of this holiday spirit, however, lies something just as common: holiday anxiety.
In fact, during the holiday months, we see an increase in cases of depression and suicide with one in five Americans experiencing what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months. While we often associate the holidays with cheer, it also makes sense that many feel heightened levels of stress. People may feel increased pressure to spend beyond their budget and find the perfect gifts for their loved ones and those that are not able to be with friends and family may feel isolated and lonely. Even things that may not seem stressful at first can take a toll on our wellbeing; lack of sleep can lead to fatigue and overeating can lead to doubts about body image.
With the holiday cheer come expectations to live up to ideal images we may see on holiday greeting cards and the burden of meeting them can set off unhealthy coping behaviors. As stress levels increase, people may turn to substances to help them deal with what they are feeling. And for those who struggle with substance abuse, the holiday season can be an especially challenging time. Even a simple toast like the one described earlier can trigger relapse for those who may in recovery from alcohol dependence.
It is important that we do not overlook the experiences of everyone who may be trying to have a peaceful and memorable holiday season despite what obstacles they may have to overcome. Beyond the gift exchanges and lively gatherings, we can practice care for ourselves and those around us by being honest about our anxieties and taking healthy steps to ease them. For example, if you or someone you know has a history of using substances in harmful ways then create environments where substances and the pressure to use them are not present. In being mindful of what everyone’s needs may be as we celebrate this season, we can be sure to genuinely live up to the holiday spirit with togetherness and support.