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, we feel the added pressure 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 every- one, 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.
Patrick Jensen, MD, board certified psychiatrist at Peninsula, has additional tips for the holiday season. He notes that setting boundaries can protect and preserve our mental
health. He says, “ We tend to over-commit at the expense of any downtime, especially this time of year. Try to give people your ‘best yes,’ which means if you give your best self to the things you say ‘yes’ to, you inevitably must say ‘no’ to other things, and that’s OK.”
Dr. Jensen notes that sometimes loved ones are first to notice if we become more irritable or
depressed than usual. We may not recognize it in ourselves, but it’s important to listen and
have courage when someone brings it to our attention. He says, “There is good stress and bad stress, and even good stress, like the pressure and obligations that come with holiday plans, can take a toll on us.” He encourages people to discern and acknowledge this stress and talk openly about it with
friends and family.
For more tips on how to make your holiday brighter and less stressful, visit PeninsulaBehavioralHealth.org/guide.
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 de- pends 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 been.”
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 hey need help.
When Someone is Lonely
Never underestimate the power of presence. Dr. Jensen says that simply offering ourselves and our
attention can provide consolation. Invite those who are hurting for a meal or cup of coffee. Even
dropping off a meal to someone’s home and having a socially distanced conversation can show you
Things you can say:
Ask questions with a listening ear, and allow space for that person to speak comfortably.
“Tell me more about that and how’s it been for you.”
“Loneliness is an epidemic that has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” says Dr. Jensen. “We are
made for community and we are social creatures. It dehumanizes us to conceptualize we can do
all things alone. Once we open up, we can experience richness of sharing love and joy with
others, even our pain and grief. This helps us tap into our greater purpose of living.”
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 o 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 find out what he or she did that day.
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 trees,
or plan a holiday meal for a needy family.
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.
Can You Pass the Holiday Stress Test?
Five Signs You Might be Stressed:
- You’re irritable.
- You’re losing sleep.
- You’re losing or gaining weight.
- You feel tense, with muscle aches or headaches.
- You feel overwhelmed.