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Mental Wellness Amid the Holidays

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By Karen Kurrle

Holidays can be filled with joy, happiness, excitement, and a sense of connection, but they can also bring stress, financial burden, anxiety, depression, and isolation. The first step to coping with any depressive symptoms is acknowledging and understanding the complex forces at work during the holiday season.

It’s important to remember that the holidays are not a time of happiness and social connection for everyone. In fact, for many, they can open a Pandora’s Box of hurtful family dynamics and traumatic memories.

In the years I’ve worked in mental health, some clients have spoken of the added stress and demands the holidays cause in their already busy lives. They talk about the parties to attend, the gifts to purchase, the family obligations, and the traditions that need to be perfect. Sometimes they talk about these events with excitement and happiness, and other times with a feeling of great anxiety.

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I talk to these clients about how to be realistic and flexible with all that needs to be done, to set limits and be patient with themselves as they move through the season.

Planning ahead and organization are healthy coping strategies, but they need to be balanced with flexibility and kindness toward oneself, including something as simple as getting a good night’s sleep.

Listening to soothing music can also help, as can engaging in physical activity, experiencing good aromas and tastes, reading, and many other activities to help deal with negative feelings that can come with the holidays. All five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing) can be used for healthy coping strategies to deal with holiday stress.

Food and drink selections at holiday parties often present temptations that challenge healthy patterns, so make an effort to engage in physical activities such as walking, yoga, and other forms of exercise.

It is also important to find balance in the shopping budget, a key source of anxiety for this time of year. However, recognizing that the most meaningful gifts are the most thoughtful, and often have little to do with money, may soothe any worry. Plus, people often report that the greatest gift of all is healthy time spent with friends. In other words, just being there for someone may be the most valuable thing you can give them.

For anyone experiencing holiday stress, there may be no better antidote than volunteering to spend time helping others. Small gestures of kindness —such as smiling at a stranger on the street or holding the door for someone entering a store—can also help increase positive feelings.

Washington County Mental Health is here to provide support during this season and always. If you need help during the holidays, please call 229-0591. We offer mental health crisis support 24/7 as well as brief treatment and longer-term services for individuals and families.

Wishing peace for all.

Karen Kurrle is the Intensive Care Services Director at Washington County Mental Health.