If you feel increasing anxious or depressed as the holidays approach, you’re not alone. And challenges related to pulmonary hypertension (PH) and/or the pandemic can exacerbate those feelings.

“During the best of times, holidays present challenges for everyone,” says psychologist David Barnum, Ph.D. “This year, with pandemic concerns everywhere, it’s just simply hard. We worry about ourselves, our friends, our parents, our kids, our loved ones, the worry list goes on.

“Plus, COVID-19 leaves us feeling not just worried, but very alone. Those traditions that might sustain us at other times might not be accessible this year, leaving us feeling alone, isolated, and stuck with our own thoughts. “

Untreated depression, anxiety or both can affect your physical and emotional health and interfere with your ability to take care of yourself.

“Anytime we are cut off against our choice, our will, from those we love and on whom we depend, our risk for feelings of anxiety and depression becomes more intense,” Dr. Barnum says. “At these times, it is helpful to know that help is still right there.

Treating your mental health is as important as treating your physical health, especially for people with chronic illnesses. That could be something as simple as phone call or a video chat, Dr. Barnum says. And while it might take some courage to make that call, remember but you’ve done even more courageous things before, he says.

Whether you’re calling a doctor, the PHA hotline, or someone in your support network, it’s important to talk to someone. It can help you go beyond the thoughts running around your head, and find the “connection and encouragement that can keep us going.”

How to get help

Consult your PH health care team or primary care provider. Ask about medication, counseling and other treatment options.

Your health care team may refer you to a psychiatrist, social worker or another mental health professional, based on your comfort level with treatment for depression and/or severity of symptoms.

What is depression?

Depression is a common mood disorder. It might appear as a lack of interest in formerly pleasurable daily activities, significant weight changes, insomnia or excessive sleeping. Other signs of depression including lack of energy or inability to concentrate, or feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt. Serious signs include recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Other common symptoms of depression:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness
  • Restlessness
  • Change in appetite
  • Diminished ability to think or concentrate
  • Increased indecisiveness

What is anxiety?

Anxiety comes and goes in response to fears or worries about changes in life, including health, work and relationships. It’s normal to experience worry, nervousness or unease when dealing with uncertain outcomes. When those feelings intensify and interfere with everyday activities, they might indicate or lead to an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety disorders often have recurring, intrusive thoughts or concerns. They might avoid places or situations to prevent those feelings. They also might experience sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat.

Symptoms of anxiety:

  • Heart palpitations.
  • Shortness in breath or a tightness in your chest.
  • Racing thoughts/trouble concentrating.
  • Restlessness or irritability.
  • Intense, excessive fear or worry.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Difficulty sleeping or change in sleep patterns.
  • Avoidance of things that trigger anxiety.

Find support

PHA Patient-to-Patient Support Line: 800-748-7274

Join a PHA Support Group.

See videos on holiday stress

Holiday Headspace

In this PHA Classroom video, experts David D. Barnum Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with a specialization in health psychology, and Patrick Mellin, a PH patient and support group leader, discuss how holiday expectations can cause added stress and increased anxiety as well as ways to recognize stressors and address them with coping mechanisms. They also share information on identifying mental health concerns and where to get professional assistance and peer support.

Holiday Headspace Caregiver Edition

This PHA Classroom video explores the concerns of caregivers surrounding added expectations during the holiday season. Michele Freeman, M.S., N.C.C., L.P.C., a PH caregiver and professionally licensed clinician, provides valuable insights and information for caregivers to address the challenges they face while providing support, while also focusing on their own needs. She shares her expertise, including ways to identify stressors, coping strategies and how caregivers can find peer support through PHA.

Other resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness: 800-950-6264

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 (888-628-9454 en Espanol)

Veteran’s Crisis Line : 800-273-8255

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: 240-485-1001

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention 888-333-2377

National Institute of Mental Health

Family Caregiver Alliance-National Center on Caregiving : 800-273-8255


Financial assistance

Most insurance plans cover mental health screenings for adults and children age 12 and older. The Affordable Care Act applies to mental and behavioral health services, including psychotherapy, counseling and inpatient services.

Medicare sometimes covers in-home counseling for eligible patients.

Call the number on the back of your health insurance card to discuss your insurance plan and coverage for mental health services, including telehealth services, so you can access mental health care from home.