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Depression and Anxiety Around the Holidays

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The holidays can be stressful, making depression or anxiety harder to manage.

The holidays can be a stressful time for many people—the shopping, gatherings, and family time can add extra pressure to our already busy lives.

For those dealing with mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, the holidays can be even harder.

About 1 in 5 adults will suffer from mental illness each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Chances are someone close to you will be affected.

So how can you spot the signs of someone struggling with their mental health during the holidays and be there to offer your support? We turned to the Cedars-Sinai psychologist Dr. Michael Wetter to find out.

How do the holidays affect mental health conditions?

Dr. Wetter: While the holidays don't necessarily exacerbate mental health conditions specifically, they do have the tendency to create more stress.

It is the resulting stress that can then trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

One of the best things people can do to help alleviate some of this stress is to make sure they engage in appropriate and effective self-care, such as getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, and having sufficient downtime.

Are some conditions affected by the holiday season more than others?

Dr. Wetter: With typically shorter periods of sunlight during the winter months, some people are more prone to feeling down or depressed.

Feelings of isolation and loneliness also tend to be heightened during the holidays, especially for those who have recently lost a loved one or those who don't have a strong network of friends and family.

Are there key signs of someone struggling with their mental health that loved ones could watch for?

Dr. Wetter: Some key signs to look for would be changes in mood or behavior that are different from the norm. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does your loved one seem to be more withdrawn than usual?
  • Are they behaving more erratically and impulsively?
  • Are they more irritable?
  • Do they typically respond quickly to a text or phone call, but now they are not responding at all?

It's also important to pay attention to the content of what a friend or loved one is talking or writing about.

Do they avoid talking about future plans? Are they making references of wanting to escape or that they have nothing to live for? These could be cues that someone is feeling hopeless and may even be entertaining serious thoughts of self-harm.

How can a friend or loved one support someone suffering during the holidays?

Dr. Wetter: Often, the simple act of reaching out is meaningful. A simple well-wishing or expression of gratitude can make a world of difference to someone who feels alone.

When you talk to your loved one, use these tips:

  • Let them know that you are there for them and that they matter to you.
  • Acknowledge that the holiday season can be difficult and that it's OK not to feel happy or joyous.
  • Express gratitude for having them in your life.
  • Remind them that even though this might be a difficult or even painful time, things change and they will likely feel better at a later time.
  • Most importantly, let them know that you love and care for them.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide or self-harm, there are resources available to provide free and confidential support. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or Teen Line at 1-800-TLC-TEEN.