Tips for Celebrating During a Stressful Season
The holiday season is a time for family and festivities, but it can also be an emotional time when we feel stress, sadness and fatigue. This year, many of us feel the continued stresses of
dealing with a pandemic. Peninsula, a division of Parkwest Medical Center, offers a free, downloadable guide to help you manage the stress of the season. The guide is intended for
everyone, regardless of whether you are struggling with behavioral health issues.
Peninsula’s Holiday Survival Guide includes expert advice on common holiday stressors such as managing money, juggling schedules and coping with loneliness. It addresses how to deal with difficult relationships, managing anger and tips for people with addictive behaviors such as alcohol and drug dependency.
Elijah Lightfoot, OTR/L, senior occupational therapist, and Carley Mahaffey, MOT/S, occupational therapy student, have tips for utilizing our senses to manage stress during the holiday season. They explain that we interpret our world using our five senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. They note that there are two types of responses we receive from our five senses, either a calming response or an alerting response. For example, a passing fire truck’s siren might alert our hearing that there could be a hazardous situation ahead. A red sign or flashing light might provide a visual alert of potential danger. Not only do our senses give us an alerting response, they can also provide us with a calming response. Here are a few examples of calming stimuli for each of the senses that might be helpful for managing stress:
- Sight: Watching a favorite movie, looking at a fireplace, watching the sun rise/set, and using candles to dim the lights in a home environment.
- Hearing: Listening to the sounds of nature (birds, wind, creeks, rain sounds). Calling loved ones and hearing their voice, and playing favorite holiday music.
- Taste: Hot cocoa, peppermint, fresh-baked cookies/bread, hot tea or pudding.
- Touch: A hot bath, a comfortable robe and socks, a soft blanket, stroking a pet, or even kneading dough.
- Smell: Lavender, pine trees and other nature smells, clean linen, candles, and fresh baked goods.
The most important thing is to be intentional and selective so that when you are experiencing an increased amount of stress, you know just what will help. “These are things that we have recommended our patients consider on a daily basis whenever we facilitate our group therapy sessions,” Lightfoot and Mahaffey said. “We’ve found that the more people are aware of the way their minds and bodies respond to their senses, the better they are at making purposeful connections on how to incorporate [specific ways to calm stress] in their everyday lives.”
What Do I Say? Support When Others are Struggling
When someone you love or care about is struggling, it is sometimes hard to know what to say. Here are some ideas for how to express your concern and support.
Dealing with Stress and Anxiety
It can be easy to self-medicate with alcohol or substances to deal with anxiety and stress. But it can become a problem if the person depends too much on alcohol, or any substance, including prescribed medications. Others may recognize it as a problem before the person does.
Things You Can Say:
“I’ve noticed you are drinking more than usual, and I’m concerned. Want to talk about it?” “You have been dealing with a lot. I think the last few weeks have been stressful; tell me how it’s
Dealing with Loss or Grief
The notion of spending time with loved ones around the holidays can make loss sting even worse, or grief feel even deeper. Show someone who is grieving that you care by asking about and remembering those who are not with us.
Things You Can Say:
“I know this has been hard on you. How are you doing now?” Validate how that person is feeling and ask if they need help.
When Someone is Lonely
Never underestimate the power of presence. Invite those who are hurting for a meal or cup of coffee. Even dropping off a meal to someone’s home and having a short conversation can show you care.
Things You Can Say:
Ask questions with a listening ear, and allow space for that person to speak comfortably. “Tell me me how’s it been for you.”
Is It More Than the Blues? When to Seek Professional Help
During winter months some individuals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), brought on by decreased exposure to sunlight. Others experience holiday blues that last a few days. But sometimes feelings go beyond the blues or SAD and are serious signs of depression. If you or a loved one have holiday blues that seem to be lingering, watch for the following signs:
- Constant sadness or irritability
- Loss of interest in pleasures once enjoyed
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
- Inexplicable changes in weight, appetite or sleeping habits
- Inability to concentrate or make decisions
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Amy Peeler, LCSW, Peninsula clinical services manager, knows this year’s holiday may be especially stressful. “Plans vary as families try to decide their own comfort level of getting together, or forgoing family gatherings because of COVID-19. It’s important for people to respect others’ decisions, which may differ from your own.” She advises that once you make the decision, communicate it clearly to everyone involved and then stick with it.
Help is Available
Peninsula has a wide range of behavioral health services. Inpatient services are available with around-the-clock care for individuals in crisis who need stabilization. Outpatient services
include psychotherapy, medication management services and case management. We also offer many therapy and support groups.
The Recovery Education Center is an educational program that helps people understand behavioral health problems and develop skills to help prevent debilitating symptoms. The Peer Support Program helps individuals stay connected and socialize with others. Some groups are for patients of Peninsula and others are free to the public. For more information, refer to the Holiday Survival Guide available here: PeninsulaBehavioralHealth.org/guide.
During the hustle and bustle of the season, we sometimes forget the simple joy of spending time creating memories with loved ones. Here are just a few suggestions to help you connect or reconnect with your children during the holidays:
Break bread. Have a sit-down meal with members of your household at least four times a week – or as many times as possible. Concentrate on eating mindfully.
Make reservations. Reserve part of your weekdays and weekends to spend some one-on-one time with each of your children. Spend the first 15 minutes after you or your child arrives home to talk about the day’s activities.
Maintain traditions. Many inherited values are communicated through holiday traditions. In a family setting, maintain traditions or rituals in creative ways that convey purpose, even if this year things look a little different.
Do a holiday project together. Make holiday cards to send to long-distance family and friends, or make some of the gifts you plan to give together. Homemade holiday cookies or ornaments are fun, collaborative projects.
Reminisce together. Pull out photos and share memories sparked by the images. Home movies are a good way to teach your children about their relatives. Share your own childhood traditions, and even recreate them. By reliving those traditions, you are connecting the past with the present and strengthening the bond with your child.
Share the gift of giving. Donate new toys, pick a child’s name off a community angel tree, or plan a holiday meal for a needy family.