The holiday times are upon us, and with the holidays often comes an increase in our stress levels. It can be difficult to keep up with the demands on our time and on our pocketbooks. We may be saddened by the feeling that the season is over-commercialized and far removed from what we believe to be the “reason for the season.” We may be unable to be with family and friends, separated by distance or possibly death. If we tend to experience some feelings of depression or anxiety anyway, the holidays may increase those feelings dramatically.
Too often during the holidays, we forego those things that our mother taught us to do to stay healthy – eat sensibly, get plenty of rest, exercise. We may eat too much, or too much of the wrong things and not enough of the right ones. We struggle to find time for exercise and sleep, so put those on the back burner while we race to keep up. We too often overindulge in alcohol. We find ourselves feeling tension, experiencing headaches, and becoming irritable and/or depressed.
Self-care is important any time of year, and even more so when life becomes stressful, as it often does during the holidays. Here are some things that you might try to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the season. Keep expectations realistic and manageable. Prioritize the important activities and let the rest go. Seek out activities that do not have a cost to help keep the budget on track. If you struggle with tradition, you might consider leaving “yesteryear” in the past and try something new this year. Surround yourself with friends and family who are caring and supportive, possibly even reaching out to make new friends or contacting someone you haven’t heard from in a while. If that is not an option (or even if it is), you could consider volunteering some time to add cheer to someone else’s life. Volunteering is time well spent for any of us, and especially for those who are struggling with being alone and feeling lonely. If faith is an important part of the season for you, be sure to make time for the spiritual aspects of the holidays that have meaning for you.
In addition to navigating the demands and the activities that may overwhelm your schedule, it is also important to pay attention to your mental and physical health. As much as possible, try to get adequate rest, eat as healthy a diet as possible, and fit in exercise where you can. When you find yourself feeling sad or lonely or overwhelmed, consider taking a self-care break and do something that can promote relaxation, such as taking a bubble bath or taking a walk or calling a friend. If at any point you find that you are experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety that are severe enough that you feel unable to manage them without help, please reach out for assistance from your support network and/or seek professional help such as from a therapist or counselor. Valeo Behavioral Healthcare is one resource that offers therapy for adults age 18 and over. (For information on Valeo services, please call 785-233-1730.)
Yes, the holidays can be stressful. They can also be a tremendous opportunity for connection, reflection, and renewal as they culminate with a transition into a new year. Here’s hoping that you find ways to manage the stressful moments so that you can relax and enjoy the times that you are looking forward to. And before you know it, you’ll be wishing Happy New Year to your friends and neighbors, and starting the countdown to next year’s holiday season!
- Karen Stafford, LSCSW, has provided presentations on stress management to community groups and workplaces. She is a trainer for the national Mental Health First Aid program and is on the board of the Shawnee County Suicide Prevention Coalition. Karen currently works at Valeo BHC as the Crisis & Intake Manager and encourages anyone who is experiencing a mental health crisis to come to Valeo’s Crisis Center to meet with a crisis clinician. The Crisis Center services are available 24/7, 365 days a year. Valeo’s 24/7 crisis line is 785-234-3300.
Valeo Behavioral Health Care
400 SW Oakley
Topeka, KS 66606
24 Hour Crisis Line
National Suicide Prevention Life Line
Shawnee County Suicide Prevention Coalition
Family Service and Guidance Center (18 and under)
325 SW Frazier
Topeka, KS 66606
24 Hour Crisis Number
Healing after Loss to Suicide Group (HeALS)
Sandy Reams – Group Facilitator