Holiday season’s emotional hangover affecting mental health

Seasonal blues are currently at their peak, with many struggling to cope with higher than normal stress and anxiety levels, according to a leading Brisbane clinical psychologist.

Anxiety House Director Dr Emily O’Leary says as the holidays draw to a close and we slowly return to our normal lives, some of us are left with an emotional hangover.

“We do see a huge spike in general anxiety symptoms from around mid-January through to early February,” said Dr O’Leary.

“Holiday blues are absolutely a real thing. Anecdotal evidence tells us that the first week or two back from holidays are really hard.

“For people who have a general tendency to worry and are predisposed to developing anxiety disorders, it is essential that they take steps to address their concerns now, so that they don’t snowball,” she said.

Dr O’Leary said while people’s stresses vary, the pervasive sense is one of hopelessness.

“For some, it’s the financial stress created by overspending through the Christmas period, while for others, it’s a feeling of dread brought on by going back to a job they may not enjoy.

“The trick is to recognise and accept your feelings, then create an action plan involving small, manageable steps.

“Trying to tackle the problem all at once can leave people feeling overwhelmed, and for those who are predisposed to over worry or catastrophise, their stress and anxiety levels can increase exponentially very quickly,” said Dr O’Leary.

If you’re worried about financing your Christmas credit card splurge, she advises not to panic.

“What’s done is done. Learn from your mistakes and talk to your partner about it, but avoid the blame game.

“Set manageable short term goals and take proactive steps to get things back on track over the next few months.

“It’s a bit like training for a marathon – you don’t go out and run 25km on the first day. First, you set your sights on 1km, then 5km… Taking the first step on the right track will do wonders for alleviating that sense of helplessness around your end goal.”

She said goal setting is also helpful for people feeling anxious about returning to work after a break.

“Immediately plan your next break to look forward to, and understand that work is a means to an end.

“Seek out new things in your position that you really like and create new challenges for yourself- it doesn’t need to be arduous.”

Dr O’Leary said that people who continue to worry excessively, despite taking steps to tackle the problem, should seek professional help.

“A lot of people think that worry is a personality trait – it is not; it is a disorder,” she said.

“There is no such thing as a natural born worrier. Worry is something that develops, and if left unchecked, can have very serious mental health repercussions.

“If you are constantly feeling stressed or worried, you should seek help from a specialised clinical psychologist.”

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