Most Americans consider the holidays to be a time of comfort and joy, as families come together to celebrate traditions and bond with those they haven’t seen in some time.
However for some, the holidays can be seen as a frightful time — and not just because of Halloween.
There are lots of reasons why people are stressed on holidays, said Larry Schallert, assistant director of the Student Health and Wellness Center at College of the Canyons. Trying to put on a happy face and handle the unrealistic expectations that are placed on one’s self, family or holiday can be a nerve-wracking challenge.
“People expect everybody to be happy and enjoy each other during the holidays, but lots of times there’s family tension or another factor that people on the outside don’t consider,” Schallert said. “Everybody is trying to put on a happy face but — on the other hand — they might have bad memories associated with the day because of a death or prior trauma during the period.”
Not everybody has the same family, Schallert said. “Some are broken or dysfunctional,” and hanging around people who aren’t positive or understanding of your situation can have a negative effect on one’s mindset.
Often it seems impossible to let family members know how or why you feel a certain way because opening up can cause even more tension, which is something that people with depression and anxiety often want to avoid, he added.
“There’s a lot of stuff we have to do during the holidays that aren’t exactly stress-free, but you don’t necessarily have more time to do the extra stuff,” Schallert said. Couple the time crunch with the financial issues that can arise during the holidays and it’s easy to see why people get the “holiday blues.”
“Alcohol is often mixed in to the situation, so people don’t watch what they say or they don’t pay as close attention to each other,” he said. “Even those who don’t struggle with alcohol might drink more than usual,” so watch your alcohol intake because trauma, stress and alcohol don’t mix.
“There’s a myth that suicide goes up during holidays, but the research and data don’t support that. This doesn’t mean people aren’t emotional,” Schallert said. A lot of suicides show up in the months after the holidays, when family members are gone and one is alone again.
It’s important for families to be mindful that the holidays can be the anniversary of a very traumatic time for a person. On the other hand, it’s also important for the one who’s stressed to be mindful of their triggers and anxiety throughout the visit, Schallert said.
On some occasions, ignoring the feelings might be the best course of action, but other times it’s best to give a little extra attention and ask, “What’s wrong?” Schallert said, “because sometimes they want to talk and sometimes they want to let it pass.”
At the very least, the gesture shows that you’re aware and not just ignoring it, Schallert said. “Hopefully, there’s a relationship there so they can open up.”