Is your loved one on the verge of a full-blown addiction or anxiety disorder? Know the signs.

The best thing you can give friends and family suffering from stress, anxiety and burnout this Christmas is your presence, not presents.

Family and social gatherings over the holiday period provide the perfect opportunity to check in with loved ones. With 35 per cent of Australians reporting significant levels of anxiety symptoms and 26 per cent moderate to very severe depression symptoms, there is a good chance you’ll need to start a conversation about mental health intervention over the coming weeks.

Jenny McGee, Clinical Psychologist at The Buttery Private, an early intervention residential wellbeing program, said it was more important than ever that people were alert to signs of stress and anxiety  – both for themselves and their loved ones.

Depression and loneliness are often exacerbated at Christmas time, so it’s an important time to check in with each other, said Ms McGee. “Usually it’s your family or your workmates that first notice the signs of becoming stressed out or overwhelmed,” she said.

“It could be they are becoming erratic in their behaviour, or procrastinating – putting off and avoiding tasks. They could be engaging in overeating, gambling, spending a lot of time on social media to distract themselves, having big nights after work, binge drinking, and misusing prescribed painkillers. All of these signs are coping behaviours people use just to get some time out from the stress and overwhelm they are feeling.”

“If left untreated, they find that their life starts to narrow. They spend more and more time engaging in those coping behaviours – whether it’s taking painkillers, gambling, or drinking too much. It could be that they withdraw from people and social engagements. Their life becomes narrower. There is less pleasure and joy, and they lose engagement and connection with other people.”

Ms McGee said, often it’s only when people are on the brink of losing their jobs that they seek help.

“Absenteeism at work is a sign that some of their coping mechanisms are starting to impact their job. As is increased ‘presenteeism’, which is turning up to work but not really being there. They may be coming down or hungover. When memory isn’t clear it is often because of anxiety and stress,” she said.

Social media addiction
In increasing numbers, Ms McGee is treating patients with social media addiction. Unlike other ‘digital detox’ retreats, The Buttery Private’s wellbeing program treats the underlying cause of digital device addiction, using the same evidence-based methods used at The Buttery’s residential rehab centre, which has effectively treated drug and alcohol addiction in a therapeutic community setting for over 40 years.

Ms McGee emphasised the importance of early intervention. Generally, the longer the symptoms are left before treatment, the more prolonged the recovery period is.

Start that conversation
Ms McGee said starting a conversation with loved ones about stress, overwhelm and anxiety – before coping behaviours spiral out of control – is by far the best Christmas present you can give.

“It’s about letting them know that you are there to support them and letting them know there are programs like The Buttery Private out there.”

She said The Buttery Private is as an early intervention program which aims to catch people before their life gets totally out of control – before coping mechanisms become a full-blown dependency, or became really serious depression and anxiety which prevents them from performing their jobs or maintaining relationships.

“The four-week residential program is effective because it is very intensive and takes all of the elements of The Buttery’s long-term evidence-based program and crystallises it into one month. Importantly, the program offers a 3-month follow up counselling service.

“Those three months are really important if people want to change habits because that is when you implement the strategies and skills that you have developed in your wellbeing plan during your stay,” Ms McGee said.

11 signs that your loved one is suffering from stress, overwhelm and anxiety, which require intervention.

  • Increased procrastination
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Excessive drinking and recreational drug use
  • Misuse of prescription drugs such as painkillers or Benzodiazepines such as Valium
  • Memory problems
  • Increased use of social media
  • Overeating
  • Problem gambling
  • Absenteeism (taking too many sick days)
  • Presenteeism (going to work but not really being there)
  • Withdrawal from social situations