It's no secret that the holidays can be rough on mental health. We spoke to a psychologist about why New Year's Eve is especially difficult for some people.
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As 2017 comes to a close, both relief and despair have crept up on us: We are glad that the year is over but sad that it sucked so ruthlessly. As people across the world prepare to bid farewell to 2017 by getting too drunk to remember its last moments, they may be finding it hard to shake themselves of a lingering sadness.
While we generally acknowledge Thanksgiving and Christmas as holidays that can be mentally taxing, a 2012 study found that approximately a sixth of the British population considers New Year’s Eve the “most depressing day of the year.” This year, we spoke to psychologist Dr. Larry Kubiak, Director of Psychological Services at the Tallahasee Memorial Behavioral Health Center, to see what factors make New Year’s Eve exceptionally hard on mental health.
What sets New Year’s Eve/Day apart from other holidays—and can make it particularly upsetting— is its emphasis on reflection, says Dr. Kubiak. “Anytime there's a time for reflection, you have the potential of becoming even more depressed,” he tells Broadly. “Especially if you feel like you just don't measure up in comparison to others.” During this time, we’re more likely to reflect upon our achievements or lack thereof. Dr. Kubiak points out that failures to reach certain goals like losing weight, addressing health issues, or getting a promotion in the last 12 months, can feel particularly heavy at the end of the year.
New Year’s Eve can be a difficult time for both those who’ve been clinically diagnosed with depression and those who have not. For people already suffering from depression and/or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), NYE can worsen unpleasant feelings and moods that are already present, according to Dr. Kubiak. For those who are not already depressed, the same factors can contribute to feelings of sadness around this time.
Often, those who are depressed find leaving the house difficult. With New Year’s Eve, however, the pressure to go out and stay out until the early morning can be an added stressor. “Anytime you let social convention dictate what you do rather than doing what feels best for you, you run the risk of anxiety, depression, and so on,” says Dr. Kubiak. New Year’s Eve leaves this group with a tough choice: go out even though you really don’t want to or deal with the uncomfortable task of telling your friends that you’re going to sit this one out. Additionally, financial stressors that have accumulated from the holidays can make going out on New Year’s Eve even more daunting.
“The only way to not feel depression or anxiety is to be a rock."
According to Dr. Kubiak, this New Year’s may pose a unique mental health challenge in comparison to those before it. He cites the American Psychological Association’s yearly survey titled Stress in America which found that for the first time in a decade, money was not this year’s number one stressor for Americans. Instead, it was “the future of our nation.” While New Year’s is a reflective holiday, it’s also one that focuses on the future and our hopes for the year to come. With morale low, Americans may, unfortunately, be feeling more dread than hope as they look forward to 2018.
What Dr. Kubiak stresses throughout our conversation is that feeling low as 2017 winds down is quite normal. It’s okay to feel your feelings, even when they’re negative. “The only way to not feel depression or anxiety is to be a rock,” he says. “Depression and anxiety are normal human emotions and they can be beneficial to us, but they can become dangerous to us if they become extremely intense and extremely prolonged.” If you feel an overwhelming sadness that continues well into 2018, Dr. Kubiak advises seeking help, whether it’s through a professional or simply vocalizing your feelings to someone who loves you.