Holiday Stress and How It Can Affect Co-Occurring Mental Illnesses

Holiday Stress

Every year, commercials, Hollywood fare, and familial pressure give us the message that the holidays are supposed to be joy-filled occasions. Holidays are meant to allow us to escape from life’s daily stressors and live life like it’s a Hallmark movie. These messages are unrealistic and apply tremendous pressure to people who feel they must live up to impossible standards. Stressors that come with each holiday season include gatherings with extended family, the pressure to participate in multiple parties and get-togethers, and the expectation that everyone is on their best behavior. These are unrealistic expectations, especially for an adolescent dealing with co-occurring mental illnesses and their families.

Co-occurring mental illnesses include:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Eating Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Holidays Commonly Contribute to Mental Illness Symptoms

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, almost two-thirds of people dealing with a mental illness say that the holidays worsen their conditions. They also report that the highest rate for child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs in winter. Ofter a person who has a mental illness relies on schedules and regular routines. The holiday season often upsets mentally ill young people, causing extra stress. Being surrounded by large groups of people gathering together can cause a child to experience feelings of anxiety, panic, depression, and confusion. These feelings can negatively impact eating and sleeping patterns and cause a recurrence of psychotic symptoms.

Warning Signs Your Child May Be In Trouble

When dealing with an adolescent who has co-occurring mental illness diagnoses, it’s essential to look out for any indications that they may be struggling. Some signs to watch out for include:

  • Mood changes
  • Withdrawing from people or activities
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Change in eating patterns
  • An increased amount of anxiety
  • Paranoia or hallucinations
  • Expressing excessive anger
  • Depressive or manic episodes
  • Discussion of suicide

Alcohol, Drug Use, and Mental Health

When managing a mental illness is coupled with alcohol or drug abuse, the holidays can make everything worse. The presence of alcohol and drugs can exacerbate your child’s mental health symptoms. Likewise, poor mental health often coincides with more alcohol and drug consumption. When faced with holiday stressors, symptoms of mental health issues like depression and anxiety can become elevated. A frustrated adolescent may be tempted to reach for old habits like alcohol or drug use to alleviate these symptoms. Learn to anticipate problems and help your child navigate the holidays without losing the ground they have gained during treatment.

Tips For Staying Safe During the Holidays

It’s essential to clarify to your struggling child that they are always welcome to discuss any concerns or emotions they are experiencing. Knowing their family members are willing to listen and are on their side can make a huge difference in how much a child is ready to open up when they are struggling. If the child is still receiving treatment, such as individual or group counseling, they must continue to attend their appointments and take advantage of the help they need. It might be tempting to skip an appointment or two due to how busy people get during the holidays. Still, every effort should be made to continue with professional treatment and take any prescription medication to help manage mental health conditions.

Families can formulate a plan to help their child anticipate interruptions in their schedule brought on by the holidays and be prepared with ways to help alleviate stress. To avoid overscheduling, which is often stressful for adolescents dealing with mental illness, ask their input on upcoming holiday activities. Present options like a dinner with family friends and a party at a relative’s house and ask which one they prefer to attend. When the child feels they have some say in deciding what events they attend, it helps reduce their anxiety levels. They feel empowered and as if their family recognizes their struggles and is happy to help with solutions.

Make Time For the Immediate Family

When a child is overwhelmed by loud parties and events with large crowds, make sure to include a happy event at home that is just for the immediate family. Family members can take turns selecting things like the food served or which movie to watch or what music to play, and make a night in feel like a calming event. Keep things within their comfort zone since so much of the holidays may have already been about that. 

The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but an adolescent struggling with co-occurring mental illnesses may find that this time of year increases their symptoms. Parents need to know what to be on the lookout for and be prepared to assist their child in dealing with any added holiday stressors. Sustain Recovery offers an intensive long-term residential program for adolescents that helps them learn to manage their co-occurring mental illnesses, as well as alcohol or drug abuse. Our multi-phase system allows adolescents to learn to express themselves, take responsibility for their recovery, and return home ready to continue with the healing methods they have learned with us. Our evidence-based clinical treatment modalities and best practice principles give every adolescent new ways to manage their mental health and feel empowered. Call us today to find out how we can help your family start healing! (949) 407-9052