The holiday season doesn’t bring good tidings of comfort and joy to everyone.
Come year’s end, Las Vegas Valley psychologist Whitney Owens said she starts to see an influx of clients dealing with stress, sadness and depression.
“Usually, the holidays tend to be a lot busier,”said Owens, who provides therapy to adults in the valley. “People end up … having a lot more interaction with family than is typical throughout the rest of the year, and that increases a lot of stress.”
It’s a well-known phenomenon. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the holidays exacerbate mental illness for some 64 percent of people already struggling with a diagnosed condition.
Depending on the symptom and its trigger, Owens offered a list of tips for people concerned about their own or a loved one’s mental health during the holidays.
‘Less is more’
Between decorating the house, planning family get-togethers and attending holiday events, the holidays can be overwhelming, Owens said.
“People are trying to fit too much into such a short period of time,” she said. “It’s sort of hard to really appreciate those when you’re doing so much.”
For Owens, “less is more.”
Picking a few meaningful activities and saying no to others can help people enjoy the events they attend without worrying where they’re rushing off to next, she said.
“Their happiness around the holidays is just as important as their children or the rest of their family,” she said.
Make a budget — and stick to it
Financial constraints can cause feelings of guilt around gift-giving, Owens said, especially when a person goes beyond their means to buy gifts around the holidays.
“Over and over again, people aren’t saying, ‘This is what I got for Christmas and that was the best part of Christmas,’” Owens said. “It’s not the materialistic pieces that people remember about Christmas, it’s really the time that’s spent.”
The American Psychological Association recommends tracking your spending and practicing money management.
Plan to be around others
On the day of a holiday, when the city seems quieter and people tend to come together with loved ones, those without nearby connections can experience feelings of loneliness and isolation, Owens said.
“It’ll be Thanksgiving Day and people realize, ‘I don’t have plans,’” she says, “and that can feel really isolating.”
Owens said she helps her clients create a schedule for a holiday full of activities to keep them active and surrounded by others, whether that includes traveling to see family or calling a friend, or volunteering at a shelter.
Importantly, she said, avoid alcohol as an outlet.
“Make sure you have a solid plan for the holidays so you know if you typically get a little depressed. What are some activities you can do that day?” she said.
Missing a loved one
The loss of a loved one can surface feelings of grief around the holidays, Owens said. Often, it’s accompanied by guilt — both for grieving during a joyous time, and for enjoying the company of others after the loss of that person.
“We get very black-and-white (over) whether it’s going to be happy or it’s going to be terrible, but over the holidays, it might be both at the same time,” Owens said.
She said grief is natural around the holidays.
“I think people feel pressure to be happy, and the goal is to be where you’re at,” she said.
Where to get help
For those in need of help, the Crisis Call Center offers 24-hour help year-round by phone or text.
Call 1-800-273-8255 or text “ANSWER” to 839863.
In life-threatening circumstances, call 9-1-1.