The Holidays Aren’t the Same for Everyone
The holiday season, often portrayed as a time of joy, togetherness and plenty, is a period of contrasting emotions. While some bask in the warmth of festive cheer, others grapple with a myriad of unspoken challenges and stressors. Social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status, mental health and social support can affect our experience of the holidays.
Factors Impacting Holiday Cheer
The season’s traditions are expensive
Financial constraints often top the list of social determinants impacting holiday experiences. A study by the USDA revealed that more than 12% of households in the United States struggled to put food on the table last year, a stark contrast to the lavish feasts and extravagant gift-giving that dominate the holiday narrative. This financial strain can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress, particularly for single parents or those working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
“The pressure to conform to holiday societal expectations can intensify mental health conditions, creating a cycle of cognitive dissonance.”
Amy Kazmierczak – Chief People Officer
Loss underscores feelings of isolation
Loneliness, another pervasive social determinant, intensifies during the holidays. In early 2023, 17% of Americans said they felt lonely “a lot of the day” and those numbers were significantly higher among people in lower-income households (27%) and young adults (24%). Older people, too, suffer from loneliness. In 2023, one in three adults aged 50–80 reported feeling isolated from others. These feelings can become particularly acute during the season focused on togetherness.
Grief, a universal human experience, can also cast a shadow over the holidays. While some are celebrating new beginnings, others are mourning the loss of loved ones, the end of relationships or even the loss of a job. The festive atmosphere can serve as a painful reminder of what once was, intensifying the grieving process.
Mental health conditions can be triggered
Mental health struggles further complicate holiday experiences. One in five Americans suffers from a mental illness, and for many, the holidays can add to their anxiety and depression. The pressure to conform to societal expectations can intensify these conditions, creating a cycle of cognitive dissonance.
Recognizing the impact of social determinants on holiday experiences is crucial to fostering empathy and support. Small acts of kindness can make a world of difference. Offering financial assistance to those struggling, reaching out to the lonely, acknowledging and respecting the grief of others, and supporting the mental health needs of those around us can underscore the holidays as a true season of inclusivity and compassion.
Amy Kazmierczak is chief people officer at Lucet, The Behavioral Health Optimization Company.