Anxiety and Holiday Stress

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Anxiety plagues many individuals throughout their lifetime. In fact, the Anxiety and Depression Association of American (2017) found that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting around 40 million adults ages 18 and older. The onset of anxiety can be caused by a variety of factors including, but not limited to: genetics and physiological composition, environmental factors, and temperament. For many, the holiday season is a source of anxiety and depression. Stress, loneliness, fatigue, and frustration may lead to the “Holiday Blues” from Thanksgiving to the New Year. In most cases, symptoms are only temporary. However, if lasting more than two weeks, clinical depression and anxiety may result.

How does anxiety affect health?

Anxiety affects people’s health in a number of negative ways including increased comorbidity with other disorders such as depression, changes in appetite, loss of sexual interest, muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, etc. Despite this, many people do not seek treatment due to the stigma regarding mental health services and the normalization of being anxious.

Key points to understand

  • Anxiety can lead to negative health outcomes.
  • Anxiety should be taken seriously. Those dealing with anxiety should try to alleviate symptoms or seek professional help.
  • Individuals, family, and friends should be aware of the symptoms related to anxiety such as excessive worry, changes in appetite, and restlessness.
  • Children and teens are susceptible to experiencing anxiety just as much as adults are.  

Tips for avoiding anxiety

  • Regular exercise can combat anxiety.
  • Make a to-do list to reduce excessive worry.
  • Set reasonable expectations and goals for the future.
  • Mindful meditation is a useful way to focus on the moment rather than the expected or feared.
  • Use breathing techniques that will help relax tense body parts.  As simple as inhaling slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation can help alleviate muscle tension.

Holiday Stress

Although the holiday seasons can be joyful, it can also be a stressful time for some. Many people cannot afford to give gifts to their loved ones, which can be mentally taxing for them. It is also the season of multiple obligations to attend to. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, people are expected to host a big dinner or party and spend it with family. There may be individuals who do not have family near them and that can lead them to be at risk for the Holiday Blues. Holiday Blues are different from mental illness, but should be taken seriously. Holiday Blues can also lead to a more serious psychological condition.

Tips for Avoiding the Holiday Blues

  • Try to stick to normal routines.
  • Get enough sleep and rest.
  • Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate. Spend time with supportive, caring people.
  • Eat and drink in moderation.
  • Get exercise — even if it’s only a short walk.
  • Make a to-do list. Keep things simple.
  • Set reasonable expectations and goals for activities such as shopping, cooking, entertaining, attending parties or sending holiday cards.
  • Set a budget for holiday activities and gift buying. Don’t overextend yourself financially.

If symptoms of depression or anxiety last more than two to three weeks, it could indicate a more serious mental health problem. Talking with your doctor and getting a referral to a mental health professional is strongly recommended.

What Can We Do About Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9 percent of those suffering from anxiety receive treatment (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2017). This can be contributed to the stigma that is involved in the mental health community especially among Latinos. This is partly because many write off anxiety as ataque de nervios, a culture-bound syndrome, and fail to recognize that they need appropriate attention. The vast majority of people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care. Several standard approaches have proven to be effective: therapy, medication, complementary, and alternative treatments.

Getting Help

Anxiety is seen as a normal part of everyday life. However, constant worry and excess fear can cause negative health outcomes. If you feel that you are unable to alleviate your symptoms, consider seeking professional help. With multiple effective methods of therapy and counseling, anxiety symptoms can be reduced. Counselors and psychologists are trained to offer empirically validated treatments that can help reduce the symptoms which you are experiencing. This can be a temporary state and you have control over how to manage your anxiety. Recognizing the need for help is the first step.

References available upon request

(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Paola Quijano, Abigail Nunez-Saenz, Andy Torres, Daniela Guardiola, Luis Mata, Isabel Aguirre, Jovan Djurkovic, Amy Ramirez, Fernando Martinez, & Yvette Hinojosa)

 

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