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Increasing Symptoms of Mental Illness During the Holidays


by Natasha T. - January 4, 2016


Natasha Tracey is a professional writer and author for Bipolar Burble. She currently worked as a freelancer for Canadian pharmacies online.

Mental Illness During the Holidays
While many people consider the holidays to be merry and bright, what few people realize is that for those with mental illness, symptoms may increase during the holidays. Particularly if mood symptoms are prevalent for a person, those symptoms (and others) can flair up dramatically. But what happens when mental illness symptoms increase during the holidays, what causes this and how can it be quelled?

SEE ALSO: How to Find a Good Psychiatrist

Increase in Mood Symptoms During the Holidays

Those with mood disorders such as major depressive disorders or bipolar disorder often experience mood changes and, indeed, even full-blown mood episodes during the holidays. People report that they experience both abnormally high moods (hypomania or mania) and abnormally low moods (depression) during this time. These moods can lead to episodes or mania or hypomania or depression.

And while hypomania or mania might seem like a fun thing to be over the holidays, many people find it certainly is not. This is because these moods may also bring about huge feelings of agitation, anxiety or frustration along with increased energy. Moreover, after a mania or hypomania runs its course, severe depression usually follows.

Depression, of course, is never a desirable mood and perhaps it is most undesirable during the holidays. The people with mental illness who experience depression cannot enjoy the holidays – a time when everyone is supposed to be “having fun" and enjoying the revelry. This lack of enjoyment can actually make a depressed person feel even more so as they feel guilty for not feeling what they’re “supposed to" feel.

Increase in Anxiety Symptoms During the Holidays

Just as mood symptoms may get worse during the holidays, anxiety symptoms can too. These worsening symptoms might be related to panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or others. One study found that emergency room admissions for panic attacks increased by 22.1% during the holidays.

The most obvious correlation here is the fact that the holidays typically increase the occurrence of social gatherings and that may trigger anxiety in those with social phobia or other kinds of anxiety. The pressure to be perfect during the holidays may also increase anxiety in some. Additionally, the celebrations, loud noises and overwhelming stimuli of the holidays can easily increase anxiety and trigger people such as those with PTSD.

Substance Use Disorders During the Holidays

The holidays are also a time where many imbibe alcohol socially and this can lead to increased issues for those with substance use disorders. Those with addictions may be more likely to turn to their addictions when they see others doing using substances or they may struggle more with staying clean and sober.

Substance use can also cause the symptoms of other mental illnesses to pop up or get worse.

Stress, Routine and Mental Illness During the Holidays

One of the major reasons people with mental illness experience more symptoms during the holidays is stress. Stress, at any time of year, can increase the symptoms of mental illness and many people find that the holidays simply have built-in stress. All of the party requests, the necessary cooking and baking, buying of holiday gift that may not be affordable and seeing others you may not wish to see all add to the stress of the holidays. The demands on a person’s time also leads to stress as the person may not be able to spend the downtime his or her mental illness requires.

Additionally, during holiday times, routines are often drastically interrupted. Where a person with mental illness may have been focused on a routine to facilitate wellness during the rest of the year, that routine may be thrown out the window when the holidays roll around and the person travels, spends time with people he or she rarely sees and attends parties. People with mental illness may not eat healthily, exercise, keep up with their doctor’s appointments and do other routine things during the holidays and this can cost them dearly.

Decreasing Mental Illness Symptoms During the Holidays

It may not always be possible to eliminate the symptoms of mental illness during the holidays, but some good rules of thumb to reduce these symptoms are:

• Don’t drink or use drugs.

• Set clear boundaries with your loved ones. Tell people early that you may not be able to attend every function or that you might have to leave early.

• Only attend the events you want to attend and make sure to leave early if your symptoms flair up.

• Try to maintain the routine and healthy habits you keep the rest of the year.

• Let go of the concept of a “perfect" holiday to reduce pressure on yourself from unrealistic expectations.

• Don’t offer to do more than you can reasonably accomplish.

• Reach out for help from a professional or a helpline if your mental illness symptoms become severe.

If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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