Opinion | Take care of your mental health during the holidays

Certain self-care straegies are vital for college students struggling with their mental health.



Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist

Although the holidays are a joyous time for many, there are still those who struggle with their mental health. College students who are struggling during the holidays should not be afraid to do activities that benefit their mental health.

Research suggests while holidays are associated with decreased suicide rates, there is a peak just after. As Thanksgiving has just passed, and Christmas is coming up, it is timely to talk about what people with mental health issues can do to stay emotionally healthy, especially college students.

The American College Health Association found the suicide rate among people aged 15-24 has tripled in the last half century. It is possible that the holidays can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression in college students who might not have a good relationship with their families and cannot go home for break.

Depression is not the only mental health issue which is timely to talk about during the holidays. Eating disorders are another example of a mental illness that is hard to have.

Leslie Sim, director of the Mayo Clinic Eating Disorders Program, said in an interview with Mayo Clinic people with eating disorders start worrying about food consumption at holiday gatherings months before.

“Unfortunately for our patients with eating disorders, the holiday season is really a nightmare. It’s something that they dread and talk about and anticipate for months ahead of the holidays,” Sim said. “It’s really a stressful time because there are large amounts of food around.“

Holly Nicely, a staff therapist for University of Iowa Counseling who specializes in eating disorders, said college students with eating disorders can struggle during the holidays due to seeing people they have not seen in a while who make comments about weight and appearance.

“Those things can be really stressful and lead to things feeling more appearance-focused, more diet-focused, during the holidays,” Nicely said.

Nicely said at a professional level, she talks to her clients about possible situations which might come up that can cause issues and help clients set boundaries, such as saying they are not comfortable talking about their weight. She also encourages clients to have a support system who they can call and believe will be helpful and to have flexibility with food intake.

“We’ll talk about how sometimes during the holidays, you might eat a little bit more than you typically would,” Nicely said.

Nicely also works with patients who have depression and anxiety. She said there is a seasonal component to depression during the holidays with it getting darker sooner and being colder outside, so there are not as many opportunities to go outside and socialize. According to Health Research Funding, about 10 million Americans have seasonal affective disorder.

Nicely said that some possible sources of increased anxiety during the holidays can be due to finals and academic stressors, and increased financial stressors.

Nicely said college students with mental health problems can take care of their mental health by getting enough rest, getting enough movement and nutrition, talking about possible stressors during therapy, and having a strong support system.

It’s OK to skip holiday occasions or gatherings that might be difficult or trigger symptoms of mental illness. Enjoying holidays can be possible for college students with mental illnesses with proper self-care and support.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.