Mental health and the holidays: stress and expectations can displace cheer
The holidays are meant to be a joyful time. You’re supposed to be filled with cheer, take time to reconnect with family, and enjoy the process of giving and receiving gifts. You’re supposed to make memories that will be cherished for years to come.
Decorate, cook, bake, buy, wrap, plan, budget, sacrifice: A lot falls on adult members of a household—especially mothers—during the holiday season. Unfortunately, it can become a time that people dread instead of celebrating.
This can be especially true for the more vulnerable members of our community. Health Care Access Now (HCAN) dispatches Community Health Workers (CHWs) to serve marginalized communities in the Cincinnati area. When they identify mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, they refer clients to mental health agencies with which HCAN has relationships. CHWs provide support to their clients with the end goal of good health outcomes—including mental health.
Here are three reasons why the holidays can be so stressful for low-income families and individuals:
1. Holidays take money
Anyone on a budget knows that an unexpected expense can throw off holiday plans. A sudden car repair could mean choosing between paying the rent and celebrating the holidays. The adults in a food insecure household may need to ration what they eat for several weeks to be able to have a special holiday family meal. If a single mom’s hours are cut, it could mean no presents for the kids.
This kind of financial stress affects low-income families year-round, but it can be more intense around the holidays. There’s a huge amount of societal pressure to make the holidays feel special—especially for small children—and creating that feeling usually involves money.
Financial stress can trigger anxiety, which can affect every aspect of an individual’s life and work. And high anxiety can start to take a toll on physical health as well, worsening chronic disease and increasing susceptibility to infectious disease.
2. Holidays take time
All the special holiday touches—decorating the tree, wrapping presents, baking cookies, and so on—take time that many people simply don’t have to spare.
Temporary jobs pop up around this time of year, and many pick up extra work only to find time with family even more limited than it ever was before. Even if the adults in the household aren’t working extra hours, the everyday needs of a family can already take up all available time. Adding more activities can seem impossible.
3. Holidays take health
Those who suffer from depression can have a more difficult time around the holidays. Bad weather, the pressure of family traditions, and the custom of taking stock at the end of the year can culminate in worsening depressive symptoms.
Mental health issues can affect anyone around the holidays, no matter their circumstances. We at HCAN hope that you have a holiday season that’s filled with joy. And, if you find yourself moved to donate to HCAN to help CHWs do their work, you can have a hand in lightening someone’s load during the holidays.