Time to talk about mental health: Try tips to overcome holiday stress

Published 12:52 pm Tuesday, November 21, 2023

By Julie Whittaker

For the Enterprise

During the holiday season, an unwelcomed condition may bother us. Anxiety can be a normal part of our lives, or it can become a problem that requires intervention to manage. It can occur alone or may coincide with several mental illnesses. And, I’d say everyone has felt bouts of anxiety at some time in their life.

Emotionally, anxiety feels like dread, tense, nervous, jumpy, restless, irritable, fear of the worst. Physically, it can produce a pounding heart, sweating, tremors, headache, fatigue and insomnia and stomach upset, frequent urination and diarrhea.

Dr. Pamela Wiegartz offered tips for managing anxiety during the holiday season in a blog for Psychology Today. I’ve used it to summarize. You can read  her entire tips at (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-the-ageanxiety/201111/10-common-holiday-stresses-and-how-cope-them-0).

For some, it is all the activities and noise that exacerbate anxiety, and for some it is not having the opportunity or relationships to participate. If you are prone to anxiety the holidays can be quite overwhelming. These tips are still excellent ideas for coping during the 2023 holidays.

• If you are trying to do everything, consider slowing down, planning and getting organized. This can reduce the trips and running around. Enlist help, spread out the responsibilities.

• If the cost stresses you, set a budget and avoid straying. Think of ways to collaborate with others. Think about handmade items and homemade goodies. Or give the gift of your time and service.

• Lower expectations, raised by commercials, social media and trying to keep up with the neighbors.

• “This is the time of year when families feel compelled to come together in peaceful, loving harmony, whether they like it or not. If your family is truly abusive, unpleasant, or unhealthy for you, know that you have the choice to decline spending time with them. If like most families, they are just mildly irritating, boastful, opinionated, or hypercritical, use this opportunity to practice coping and communication skills. Pick your battles. Do you really want to argue about politics or ancient slights over turkey and stuffing with the whole family? Let it go for one day. Walk away and take a break if that works best. If you need to sort through personal and ideologic differences, find another time. Set the tone by doing your best to not criticize others and to accept your family for who they are.”

• On the other side are folks who feel lonely. If you can’t be physically with your loved ones, try the next best thing, use video chats, or at least a phone call. Get yourself out to community events, and volunteer to help others.

• Some people just hate crowds of people or traffic jams. The holidays have both. Try to cope with humor, kindness, and being mindful of others. Use the stuck time to call and chat with a friend, or just strike up a conversation with someone nearby. Take a deep breath and look for something beautiful around you.

• Remember it is okay to decline invitations and just say no to requests for your help. Friends and family will understand if you can’t make every social gathering or holiday event.

• Late nights, alcohol and over-indulgence in holiday sweets, and heavy carbohydrates can leave us feeling tired. Pledge to have a fun but healthy holiday season. Watch your consumption and get your rest. Remember daily exposure to light and fresh air are easily accomplished with a walk or exercise routine. And be considerate of others, please don’t push unhealthy substances, especially to those who are coping with substance use disorders or their weight and trying very hard to maintain their wellbeing.

• As the New Year approaches some think about last year’s resolution or the goals they set yet did not accomplish. Take a little time to consider what happened and if the goals are really that important to you. Then, put the most energy into focusing on the future. What might you do differently in the coming year?

• If you are feeling overwhelmed with persistent anxiety, sadness, or an inability to cope, reach out for help. There is no shame in talking with a friend or mental health professional about how you feel. Resources are here: https://www.daviecountync.gov/511/Mental-Health-Resources.

Make a mental health plan and look forward to feeling better in the New Year.

Finally, express gratitude, be kind, share what you are able, and grant grace to those feeling stressed or having trouble maintaining their mental health. I hope this helps people manage their well-being through the holiday season so everyone can enjoy this special time of the year and truly have Happy Holidays.