Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stress in the festival season

festival time
Festivals as a source of stress? Festivals are meant to be a time of happiness, enjoyment and family togetherness. However for some it can be time of great stress and can adversely affect mental health. The extended festival season starts around Independence Day (15th Aug) and extends right up to New Year including Ganesh Chathurti, Dusshera, and Diwali. Vacations have a positive effect on well-being. However, these effects fade soon after resumption of work (de Bloom 2009). These four months of celebration are associated with psychological distress and mental health problems for many individuals and their families.

Festival distress

(Harion 2009)
Expectations take their toll on the family. Festivals are a prime time for couples to come in for counselling with relationship problems, problems with in-laws, siblings and their children. 'Don't we get to celebrate at least once in our own home?". They end up celebrating each in their own parental homes at Pune and Ahmedabad.

For those in the workforce it means negotiating and competing with everyone else for leave or being the only one left in the office. No one at home understands why you cannot get leave. No one understands why work-pressures and deadlines increase in the time leading up to the holiday. Financial stress also comes into the picture; cool electronics, gifts, partying and vacation trips cost.

For people with mental health problems festivals are another source of stress. Well intentioned, though ill informed relatives prevail on them to stop their medications 'they are addicting', 'why do you need to take them if you're allright?' Many are coaxed into stopping medications entirely.They relapse some time after they return to work, when the social supports are at a minimum and the beneficial effects of the vacation begin to wear off. That is also the time when they have to start paying out the EMIs. This time lag to relapse after stopping psychotropic medication is a prominent factor in non-adherence. 'But he was allright at home. It's the job that is causing stress; we are thinking of relocating'.

Fasting and sleep deprivation are associated in the run up to the festivities. In vulnerable people, especially those with mental health problems, these can play havoc with the body rhythm and with medication regimens leading to a relapse. Every religion excuses ill followers the rigours of these rituals, yet the very people who should be supporting moderation often goad their vulnerable members to comply. 'I thought he was just being lazy'.

Alcoholism is another problem that is likely to recur. It starts insidiously at the beginning of the festival season. By the time the season ends its time for another stint of 'deaddiction'. Binge drinking at parties is just another problem that requires to be addressed recurrently.

Violence and injuries in the home occur through the combination of excitement, stress, tiredness and alcohol. Pressures lead to conflict and then violence. Domestic abuse is about one-third more likely on the day of the festival than the daily average. Homicide rates are generally higher on all major holidays.

Loneliness and isolation are particular issues at festivals. The holiday season is the time of the year when our desire for social contact is most likely to outstrip what our circumstances will allow; it is into this gap that loneliness creeps (Lancet 2010). As festivals are associated with friends and family, it can be difficult for those on their own to avoid feeling lonely at this time. This is especially so for older people living alone who may have no one to spend the festive season with. The loneliness felt on the festival day is often the worst. Festivals can be a sad and nostalgic time, when the loss of a family member may become especially painful. It is often a difficult time for bereaved people. The rates of suicide are known to increase especially on New Years Day (Bridges 2004).

What to do?

Prior to the festival
  1. Communicate. Make your festival plans keeping your spouse in mind. If there were problems  last year don't expect them to disappear. ' I thought we agreed on that last year'. Putting off the discussion could ruin your festivities.
  2. Collaborate. Work together to find a solution that satisfies the needs of all parties. You may not get everything you want, but you get enough of what you want to feel satisfied. Colaboration requires respect for the needs of the other party, communication skills, patience, and creativity. Parties usually do better when they collaborate than when they compete.
  3. Watch the finances. Budget for the expenses and keep a track.
During the festival
  1. Limit your alcohol. Don't drink if you don't want to.
  2. Keep to your normal sleep-wake schedule as far as practicable. When it is disrupted return to your normal schedule at the earliest. Take some time out for exercise.
  3. Take some time off for just yourself and your family. A walk, movie or meal away from the others will contribute to a few more days of harmony.
  4. Your medication is sacrosanct. Don't negotiate on this.
Strategies for loneliness
(Masi 2010)
  1. Improve social skills: After relying on a partner to share experiences and thoughts a separation, breakup or bereavement requires relearning of skills needed to build new relationships and participate in community functions.
  2. Enhance social support: Find a listening ear – people who are lonely can find it helpful to speak to a counsellor or someone removed from their situation.
  3. Increase opportunities for social contact: Be a volunteer – many charities and organisations need help at festivals and you could spend a few hours working as a volunteer. The absence of close family need not be the end of companionship. 
  4. Address maladaptive social cognition: Loneliness can also be tackled by helping people to feel happier in their own company.
    • 'Everyone else is having a good time'. Keep busy – try to stop the festival taking over your life. Make time for enjoyable activities, such as reading, walks, joining a social club or going for a movie.
    • 'What's the point, I'm just not up to it'. Take some physical exercise – this reduces stress and enhances mood. Just getting off the sofa and getting outside should improve mood.
  5. Visit an older neighbour who lives alone if you have a little spare time on your hands over the holidays; it might be just what they need to make their holiday a happy one. 
References
  1. Bridges SF. Rates of homicide and suicide on major national holidays. Psychological Reports, 2004,94,723-724.
  2. de Bloom J, Kompier M, Geurts S, de Weerth C, Taris T, Sonnentag S. Do we recover from vacation? Meta-analysis of vacation effects on health and well-being. J Occup Health. 2009;51(1):13-25. Epub 2008 Dec 19.
  3. Hairon N. How christmas festivities and pressures can damage health and well-being. Nurs Times. 2008 Dec 16-2009 Jan 12;104(50-51):33-4.
  4. Masi CM, Chen HY, Hawkley LC, Cacioppo JT. A meta-analysis of interventions to reduce loneliness. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2011 Aug;15(3):219-66. Epub 2010 Aug 17.
  5. No authors listed. Tackling loneliness in the holidays.Lancet. 2010 Dec 18;376(9758):2042.

2 comments:

  1. I think also, for anyone who has lost a spouse, parent, sibling, or child, the holidays are very difficult. Memories and feelings of despair and lonliness can be overwhelming. It becomes even more difficult when surrounded by so many who are enjoying and celebrating.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for pointing that out. I had intended to post separately on loneliness during the festival season. Have now modified this post to include the experience of loneliness.

    ReplyDelete

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