Self-Awareness is Key for Battling Holiday Stress
The holiday season is in full swing – it’s a time of joy and hope. Communities come together for worthy causes, and the bonds of families and friendships strengthen. Some relish the holidays, capturing every opportunity to spread Christmas cheer and to share in the celebrations of the new year. For many of us, however, the season can be overwhelming. Exasperated by countless factors – the financial stress of gift-giving, increased crises because of family issues, reminders of grief, or the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder – anxiety, depression, stress, and other behavioral health issues can become harmful if untreated. Though each of us is different, increased behavioral health symptomology throughout the holidays is common. If you experience heightened levels of mood disorder symptoms in the coming weeks, you are not alone.
Why Are the Holidays Difficult for Some?
Why are symptoms more apparent during the holiday season? Johnnie Jackson, Unit Director at Mountain Comprehensive Care Center’s Riverside Adult Crisis Stabilization Unit, points to three common factors that may help us understand. “For starters we can look at the weather and the season change in general. Although many look forward to the season of pumpkin spice, hooded sweatshirt weather, football, and other holiday tidings, others can cite the same season for bringing about triggers for depression and anxiety. Due to the combination of shorter days, less sunlight, gloomier weather and colder temperatures, many can feel “down” or lethargic during this time period.”
“Secondly,” he adds, “the holidays may trigger symptoms for those who have lost loved ones, or have dealt with other environmental stressors such as divorce, illness, or other life altering difficulties. Those dealing with financial stress may have to worry more about funding holiday meals or trying to provide gifts to children and loved ones, all things that carry a heavy mental burden.”
Finally, “the season may be difficult for those who are seeking companionship during this time, many of whom witness others that seem to be in that ‘perfect’ relationship. This may be especially difficult for those who experience break up or divorce during this timeframe. With loneliness, isolation, gloomy weather, financial stress, and other stressors, it is easy to see why so many may feel more ill during the holiday months.”
Should I Watch for any Warning Signs?
While some may recognize symptoms right away, others may not be aware of these changes. “Generally, it is those closest to us that will notice these changes, and sometimes the changes can be hard to notice at all. Even those experiencing increase in stress, depression, or anxiety may have a difficult time recognizing the signs,” said Jackson.
He adds, “Some of the most common warning signs can be, increased isolation and withdrawal from others, increase in fatigue and exhaustion, lack of motivation, difficulty going out in public, difficulties with sleep and appetite, increased irritability, difficulty regulating emotions, increase in crying spells, and increase in negative thought patterns.”
“Other signs,” Jackson notes, “may include increased feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, difficulty concentrating and focusing or having a sense of “brain fog,” restlessness, increase in sweating, shaking or other nervous behaviors, a general feeling of dread or doom, low self-esteem, and in worst cases thoughts of self-harm.”
What Steps Should I Take to Reduce These Symptoms?
You may wonder if there is a best approach for reducing symptoms. Whether symptoms occur during the holiday season, or at other times throughout the year, the approach that works best for you will not be the same as it is for others.
“Some people prefer to relax, some prefer increased activity and exercise, but the most important thing is to do what suits you best. No one knows ourselves better than we do,” Jackson advises. “We are experts to an extent in regards to understanding ourselves.”
“Some may enjoy reading or listening to podcasts; others may enjoy watching movies or television. Often, music can be a form of therapy or self-care – just be sure to be listen to more positive and uplifting music instead of songs about sadness and sorrow. Socializing with others can also be a great form of self-care, or attending sporting events, concerts, or other social gatherings.”
Our hobbies can become expensive, though, and it is important to know that there are many options that may allow you to take a moment for yourself at little or no expense. “It doesn’t take money to care for yourself properly. On a pretty day, a walk or hike in nature can always help, or perhaps even a short drive around town or a relaxing bath; even something as simple as a word search puzzle or coloring book can help alleviate stress.”
The fundamentals of self-care, of course, are very important as well. “Proper sleep, nutrition and exercise can go a long way in regards to self-care. If work or school becomes too stressful, it may be important to step back and take a day to rest and relax.”
“Focus on your thought patterns and become more aware of what your brain is telling you,” he adds. “Always remember to care for yourself properly and be mindful of the things that are causing stress in your life.”
What if I or Someone I Know Needs Help?
If you begin to notice symptoms that are negatively impacting your well-being or that have become unmanageable, it may be time to seek professional help. “The first step in seeking help is often recognizing that something isn’t quite right in the first place,” says Jackson.
For some, the idea of seeking help may feel unnatural. “Unfortunately, mental health has been stigmatized in the past in our region, and without merit,” Jackson noted. “However, more and more people are finally understanding the importance of proper mental health. After all, it is a mind, body and soul concept and one must take care of the mind in order to keep all three in balance. No one would discourage someone from getting medical attention if needed and the same thing should be said for mental health.”
Often, your doctor or other primary care provider may help identify symptoms early on and, in some cases, provide you with referral for behavioral health services. These services may include counseling, case management, psychiatric medication evaluation and monitoring, or addiction services if necessary.
It is important to be mindful of your own well-being, though, Jackson reminds, “In case of suicidal ideations and thoughts of self-harm, one should reach out immediately. However, one does not have to be high risk in order to reach out.” During the holidays, or any time throughout the year, many of us will experience symptoms that qualified mental health professionals can help us address. It’s not necessary to wait until your primary care provider or someone else notices your symptoms; we can, and should refer ourselves by asking for services, either by contacting a behavioral health outpatient clinic, or by asking our primary care providers for referral to these services. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience mental illness, including Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Seasonal Affective Disorder – all of which may become more evident as a result of holiday season stressors.
“Sometimes these symptoms may be hard to treat in an outpatient setting alone,” Jackson said. “MCCC operates two Crisis Stabilization Units in Prestonsburg – Riverside Adult CSU for those 18 and older, and Creekside Children’s CSU. Both offer therapeutic services, crisis intervention, medication management, and other acute services – generally over the course of three to five days. Both facilities provide services on a voluntary treatment basis and offer a warm, cozy atmosphere for recovery and stabilization.”
It is possible to help others receive treatment, Jackson explains: “Helping someone into treatment can sometimes be a difficult situation. Luckily, there are options available. If you suspect someone is in danger and/or a clear and immediate threat to themselves or others you can always call 911 and request a welfare check to ensure the safety and wellbeing of that person. In regards to accessing treatment, another option can be filing a mental health petition with the local judicial system which would prompt an evaluation to determine treatment needs. This process is typically performed at the county judicial centers and signed by an acting judge. For substance use cases one can ask about “Casey’s Law” and again find help at the county judicial center. Another option can be the local hospitals. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of self-harm or needs immediate help, they can always seek help through the emergency department where a mental health professional will be dispatched to help with the situation. Those who do not have transportation to a local hospital can dial 911 and arrange for EMS transport.”
Mountain Comprehensive Care Center has 32 outpatient clinics throughout Kentucky, and serves 41 counties. Additionally, MCCC’s seven HomePlace Clinics provide primary medical care on a sliding fee schedule. Those seeking help with behavioral health issues may do so at either an outpatient behavioral health clinic, or at their primary care clinic.
Also, help is always available at Mountain’s 24-Hour Helpline: 1-800-422-1060 Self-Awareness is Key for Battling Holiday Stress