by Marie Sweeney ’20
For most people, the holidays are a time of warmth, excitement about being home, and relaxation from school and work. However, for others the holiday season can be a stressful, anxious time that brings up feelings of loneliness and sadness. Although Christmastime is exciting and all-encompassing, mental health should not be forgotten during this time.
Christmas has always been marketed as a time of happiness and cheer, during which people are expected to live in the “Christmas spirit” and be extra positive because no one wants to be seen as a “scrooge.” However, this expectation can trigger further anxiety and mental illness and can also cause others who may not deal with mental illness to overlook what others may be going through.
Furthermore, coming home to family and childhood friends can cause a lot of extra stress and anxiety for anyone, especially someone who already suffers from debilitating anxiety and other mental illnesses. According to a study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “approximately 24 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition ‘a lot’ worse and 40 percent ‘somewhat’ worse.”
Social anxiety can occur when meeting up with friends or random high school acquaintances due to the pressure to seem as if everything is great in your life to the point where it is almost a competition over who is having the most fun at school or who already has a job or internship lined up. Sarah Kerrigan ‘20 said, “Going home for the holidays is an exciting time but sometimes the constant questions about my career path and other stressors can be overwhelming.”
Christmastime is also a time in which holiday parties and large gatherings are frequent. This can cause a lot of anxiety for someone who does not enjoy large groups or having to socialize with many people.
Some individuals also do not enjoy being at home due to an undesirable home or family environment or because they feel lonely without being with their friends from school. In this case, the month-long Christmas break can be very daunting and can make one anxious to be away from a more comfortable environment for them such as being on campus.
In a different way, sometimes the holiday season can bring up old memories of loved ones or other emotional experiences which can elicit strong emotions and can induce depression or intensify an individual’s depressive thoughts. Loneliness is often another feeling that can occur during the holidays if someone is unable to be surrounded by their friends and loved ones.
As Providence College students gear up this next week to head home for Christmas break, it is important to be mindful of your own mental health as well as that of those around you. While the excitement of Christmas and other holidays can mask mental illness awareness, it is extra necessary to be wary of mental illness during this time to facilitate a happy and healthy Christmas season for all.