Holiday Stress Brings Anxiety and Abuse

ByABC News
November 23, 2004, 12:33 PM

Nov. 24, 2004 — -- The holiday season brings with it images of glittering parties, family get-togethers and a festive social whirlwind. But these same images often mask a number of serious mental health issues that also can come with the holiday season.

And while many people do enjoy the holiday activities during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year's, for others the season is marked by an increase in depression, alcohol and substance abuse, suicide and domestic violence.

"We see more of it in police reports and hospital emergency room visits," said Jennifer Taylor, clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Belmont, Mass.

Expectations about holiday events, often based on the unrealistic portrayals of healthy, affluent families from television and advertisements, can fuel anxieties during the season.

"Each individual needs to think about how realistic this is," said Taylor. "When people try to live up to that and it's not realistic, people become anxious and try to numb their feelings with alcohol or substance abuse. This can lead to domestic violence."

Seasonal pressures come from a wide range of other sources. Financial obligations mount as holiday spending runs amok, final exams and grade reports put students and parents on edge, and increased demands on time and energy can sap the strength from the most resilient party-goer.

"There are tons of extra demands," said Nadine J. Kaslow, professor and chief psychologist at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "People feel like they want to do it just right. They run themselves ragged."

SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, also afflicts some individuals during this time of year. SAD is a type of depression associated with the low light conditions experienced during long, dark winter months.

Families are usually a focal point for holiday anxieties. And when family members are serving in the military overseas, have died in the past year, or are estranged from the family, the pressure to have a perfect holiday gathering can cause ordinary social tension to become unbearable.