WASHINGTON – Valentine’s Day isn’t all hearts and flowers.
For psychologists and counselors, the depression and anxiety the holiday sometimes brings can actually mean more work.
“The model of Cupid and heightened romance and passion that’s associated with the holiday” can “exacerbate patients’ anxiety and . . . depression,” said Eileen Mager, a Pikesville psychologist.
Too many people expect a stereotypical Valentine’s Day — a happy couple in love, sharing a romantic dinner or passionate evening — and set themselves up for disappointment, Mager said.
“I have heard all this week a real emphasis in the therapy session on, `What’s wrong with me? Why am I not in a relationship? Why isn’t my relationship more romantic?'” Mager said. “It’s often demoralizing for people who aren’t in a relationship or who are in an unhappy relationship at Valentine’s Day.”
Some psychologists started seeing evidence of the holiday weeks ago.
“My schedule has been unusually busy in the last few weeks,” said Towson psychologist Marc B. Lipton. “I can’t scientifically attribute it to Valentine’s Day, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Most people, he said, anticipate Valentine’s Day for several weeks before.
“There’s so much publicity that it gets them (patients) thinking,” Lipton said.
Shopping in a drug store this time of year can be fraught with anxiety for the lovelorn. The aisles are stacked with heart-shaped candy boxes and plush toys placarded with sentimental messages. And they can’t take refuge in television, where jewelry and flower ads provide a constant reminder of the holiday.
Even Internet surfers get their share, like the pink-and-red heart makeover for search engine Yahoo.com.
Also, people have “increasingly realized that the quality of life is ultimately defined by the quality of our relationships with the people we love,” Lipton said. “As a result, Valentine’s Day perhaps takes on a little more deeper and broader meaning than it might have been doing in recent years.”
Susan Bartlett, a Johns Hopkins University professor who helps people with weight issues, doesn’t expect to see the holiday’s impact until a few days later.
The prevalence of chocolate and candy boxes as Valentine’s gifts “can be really difficult (for patients) to manage,” Bartlett said. “People get a lot more candy than they had ever anticipated.”
Plus the gooey gifts are around for a while, she said. “Next week is usually a week when my patients will have a much more difficult time because they will have been struggling” with the holiday. “For some people, having a box in front of them can really trigger a binge.” But not all area psychologists have seen their appointment books swell. Charles Fogelman, a psychologist with Atlantic Coast Behavioral Health Services in Baltimore, says his practice is usually always busy. Fogelman hasn’t had an increase in the number of new referrals, particularly when compared with his typical Christmas rush. But for those who do feel the holiday’s sharper edge, Eileen Mager tries put the day in perspective: “What I do is emphasize that it’s a Hallmark holiday.”