Mental Health Factors Impacting Celebrations

Mental Health Factors Impacting CelebrationsCelebrations occur all over the world, bringing people and communities together for a variety of reasons. Celebrations often take place for personal, cultural, or religious reasons and might not be celebrated due to discomfort or objections in these areas. What associations come to mind when you think of various reasons people celebrate? Are there any types of celebrations that are particularly triggering?

One reason to celebrate that often comes up in therapy is having a mixed range of emotional experiences on celebratory dates such as birthdays. It can be a love-hate relationship, depending on the person. Some people love the care, attention, and recognition of their special day. They look forward to planning, celebrating, spending meaningful time with important people, and doing things they love. On the other hand, some people wish for the day to come and go. While some reasons may be related to personal preferences or personality, there can be distressing mental health factors.

If you relate to any of the following and would like to process these with a mental health therapist, it can be helpful to work through blocks that are impacting celebrations. It is helpful to talk through the thoughts and feelings that come to mind with celebratory experiences.

Anxiety

One of the reasons why celebrations may be triggering is due to the high level of anxiety that comes with celebrating. Worrying about all the details, planning, anticipatory anxiety such as worrying about who will show up, restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, difficulties sleeping and concentrating may be present. It can be hard to feel out of control when there is pressure and expectations on an important day that does not go as planned. It can bring up some difficult emotions.

For those who struggle with social anxiety, celebrations that focus on the individual can make it very uncomfortable and awkward. Physical symptoms present in front of groups of people, such as sweating, blushing, accelerated heart rate, trembling, and difficulty speaking up can reinforce negative associations. The tendency is to want to withdraw and avoid similar interactions or to endure them with distress. This does not sound like a fun way to celebrate!

Highly Stressful or Traumatic Experiences, including Grief/ Loss

When celebrations are paired with highly stressful events or cue trauma triggers, then celebrations can bring back distressing memories, flashbacks of trauma, and physical symptoms, along with avoidance. The body responds with heightened arousal and reactivity and mood and cognitive symptoms are present. The individual might cope with social isolation and engagement in reckless activities such as excessive substance use due to negative emotions such as anger, guilt, and shame along with unhealthy thinking patterns such as blaming themselves. When traumatic events occur during celebratory times, events that once were pleasant are now triggering. When there is the loss of a loved one, it can be painful to celebrate when their absence is experienced.

Depression

Celebrations can be depressing. Perhaps you remember being left out or not celebrating in your family or culture. Perhaps finances were tight, and a reason for not being able to celebrate in the ways your peers celebrated. Maybe you are getting older and beginning to compare yourself to others, finding that your expectations do not align with your reality. If you struggle with depression, you are likely losing interest in things that used to be enjoyable (such as celebrating) and find yourself feeling depressed, down, or hopeless. Some people describe feeling “empty” and pessimistic. Everything feels harder—eating, sleeping, having the energy to do things. Celebrating yourself can bring up feelings of dread, especially when you already feel bad about yourself.

Celebrating can bring up a variety of emotions, both pleasant and unpleasant. Here are a few things you can do to help find balance.

  • Learn to understand the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that impact celebrations.
  • Begin to work through painful emotions and triggering experiences.
  • Communicate with others what you want and need.
  • Set boundaries. For example, if you do not want a large celebration, that is ok!
  • Increase your comfort with accepting little things from others celebrating you such as greetings or small gifts.
  • Acknowledge the things and people in your life you are grateful for.
  • Be kind to yourself, especially when it comes to celebrating you.

If celebrating is difficult, try naming it. For example, “Today is my birthday”. Without judgment, continue with your day, including at least one thing you enjoy doing.

Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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