More stress than bliss |

More stress than bliss

Holidays put strain on individuals with high suicide risk factors

Bridget Manley

— For some, the holidays may elicit fond memories.

But for others, including those at high risk for suicide, the season can create more stress than bliss, said Tom Gangel, Craig Mental Health division director.

Although suicide rates don’t increase during the Christmas season, this time of year can distress people at high risk for suicide – those with depression, mental illness or someone who has recently lost a loved one.

Certain factors can make the holidays difficult for these individuals, Gangel said.

Yet, these factors also influence the population at large.

Many people eat less-balanced diets during the holidays, which can cause stress. An excess of sugary confections can throw off the body’s natural balance.

“You’re whole body chemistry is affected by food,” Gangel said.

A lack of exercise also can contribute to holiday stress – as can Christmas shopping, wrapping, decorating and other Christmas chores.

Finally, unrealistically high expectations for the season can make the holidays difficult to endure.

“The expectations are always so high,” he said, adding that the culture at large perceives the season as a time when everyone should be happy.

Gangel compared the feeling to that of a child on Christmas morning who discovers he or she didn’t get the gift he or she wanted most.

“You’re just so bummed out,” he said.

Caregivers and parents wanting to make Christmas enjoyable for their loved ones also can become overwhelmed or depressed.

Although these factors affect most individuals, they may more deeply impact people at high risk for suicide.

What can concerned friends and family members do for someone they suspect the holidays are hitting especially hard?

“If you see someone who is struggling, help them,” Gangle said.

Small acts can help alleviate someone else’s stress – acts like offering to wrap gifts or helping the person make a list of holiday chores.

People at high risk for suicide also can help themselves.

Gangel suggested cutting down alcohol intake, staying organized, maintaining a good diet and taking time out when necessary.

Finally, remembering that Christmas doesn’t necessitate happiness for self or someone else can ease the pressure.

“Lower your expectations,” Gangel said. “Christmas doesn’t have to be fabulous. It’s OK not to make the holidays perfect : even for someone else.”

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207 or