DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Pandemic stress contributes to holiday stress

Local News

While the holiday season is usually an exciting time, many don’t feel that way. The season brings no joy. 

Health professionals usually see depression and anxiety becomes a common concern during this time of year, and no one is immune from experiencing one or both.

Jonathan Singer, President of the American Association of Suicidology says, “we’ve actually seen an increase in anxiety that I think has driven the increase in depression.” 

Shorter days, loneliness, and finances around this time are contributing factors.  The pandemic is now another major contributing element, making this year different than any other. 

“We know that calls to crisis hotlines have increased significantly during COVID, that people talk about being more anxious, that there’s some suggestion that people are experiencing more depression symptoms,” says Singer. 

Now, the holidays are looking more like a burden than a time to celebrate.  

“The holiday hustle and bustle that sometimes we think of or that fun aspect of the season, those things can create a lot of stress for people especially if they feel unattainable because of loss or lack of resources, and then this year is so different because of the pandemic. I think it’s fair to say that people experience different types of holiday stress because the things that they look forward to might be disrupted,” explains Mandy Fauble, Director of Clinical Care Services at UPMC Western Behavioral Health at Safe Harbor.

Some other common factors adding to anxiety and depression are serotonin deficiency and Seasonal Affective Disorder

“Most people that live in our area have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder or have concerns with depression around different seasons. Sometimes we find that when it’s so dark out or when people start to eat more carbohydrates their exercise routine goes by the wayside, those are things that can contribute to underlying depression,” says Fauble. 

Fauble points out that depression goes beyond just sadness. There many indicators of depression to watch for. 

“During the pandemic, more and more people are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety, and depression is more than just being sad. Sometimes people associate depression with sadness, but actually a lot of people describe depression as feeling flat – like you can’t feel anything at all and you can’t experience joy. For some people, depression is actually marked by a lot of irritability and even anger,” says Fauble. 

According to Fauble, other signs of depression include: 

  • Confusion 
  • Memory challenges 
  • Inability to focus 
  • Feelings of guilt 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Over/undereating 
  • Challenges completing simple tasks (ex: getting out of bed, showering, opening mail) 

Even though depression and anxiety can be tough to deal with, there are solutions and ways to cope. 

“When we acknowledge it then we make it okay to ask for help. It’s so important that we reduce the stigma but then we let people know what resources are available to them, and resources are things we can do by ourselves,” says Fauble. 

Some of those resources include: 

Talking to people you trust: Spiritual advisors, primary care physicians, behavioral health specialists, family, friends, and people in the community are a few suggestions Fauble gives of people you can seek support from if needed. 

Doing activities you enjoy: Fauble mentions that a way to cope is through building your resilience by doing things that are fun for you. Doing things that you enjoy doing can make you feel in control and can take your mind off of stressors. 

Seeking professional help: Fauble says depression responds well to medication and therapy especially when done together. She also recommends talking to a family doctor or mental health professional especially if you’re having thoughts about death or suicide. Many mental health services and resources are available virtually. 

Realizing there’s help always available: “Here in Erie we do have a 24/7 365 crisis hotline here at Safe Harbor. That number is 814-456-2014, but certainly there’s the national suicide prevention lifeline center,” suggests Fauble. 

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