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Stressful season

Managing mental health during the holidays

Article Author: Katie Nussbaum

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The holiday season comes with a lot of joy, but it can also mean a schedule full of parties, long lines and little downtime.

"The end-of-the-year holiday season can be exhausting and highly stressful to many," said Savitha Puttaiah, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of Baptist Behavioral Health. "Even though it is the festive season, Christmas appears in the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), a scale that was created in the mid-1960s by psychiatrists Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, to capture the effects of stress on a person over a period of time."

Dr. Puttaiah offers some quick and easy tips to help reduce holiday stress during this sometimes challenging time of year.

Create a budget

"Sticking to a budget and sharing this goal with someone who can keep you accountable can be a simple start and keep you less overwhelmed," Dr. Puttaiah said.

You can do this in several ways: set a limit on your credit card or put the plastic away entirely and stick to cash.

We live in the era of buying things with a single click, so deleting your favorite shopping apps like Amazon from your smartphone can be liberating and save you from the regret of impulsive shopping and retail therapy.

Be mindful of alcohol

Alcohol can be hard to stay away from, as it's part of the social fabric, Dr. Puttaiah said. This is another area where it's helpful to bolster the support system you have to keep you on track with drinking.

"You can also be selective about the events you attend, especially if you know there will be excessive alcohol there," she said.

Other ways to help you skip alcohol include taking along your favorite non-alcoholic drink or asking the host to have it on hand, electing to be the designated driver, and having a pre-planned response to turning down a drink.

It's important to understand that drinking alcohol can worsen depression, and "drowning one's sorrows" in a drink is a myth and invariably worsens things. Try instead to stick to routines, activities involving nature, getting out of the house, and being with friends who don't drink.

Take time for yourself

Sometimes, setting boundaries is necessary to ensure you have space for yourself. Taking time to go outside and enjoy the fresh air, reading a book that is long overdue, or spending time on your favorite hobby are easy ways to help you reset during the busy time of year.

While alone time is important, spending time with friends and family members is equally important, especially if the holidays trigger grief or bad memories.

"The holidays give you the opportunity to recharge, connect with family and nature, and do things that are within your control," Dr. Puttaiah said. "If the holidays are triggering, anticipating this and having a strategy to manage triggers rather than just going with the flow can be very helpful when things feel overwhelming."

Have a support system and make sure you don't skip parts of your routine like taking your medications, getting some decent sleep, or going to the gym.

Unplug from your devices

Dr. Puttaiah recommended setting aside at least a couple of days a week for a digital detox.

"Sometimes, it can be difficult to step completely away from electronic gadgets because you have to stay in contact with your loved ones, so one thing I find helpful is deleting apps," she said. "If you're uninstalling social media, work email and the shopping apps, and only using your cell phone for what it's truly meant to be, you will save a ton of energy and brain cycles."

She added, "It boils down to the choices we make, being mindful and understanding that the spirit of Christmas is in the togetherness. It's a time where we reflect, spend time with our loved ones, forgive, take stock of what is important and become better versions of ourselves."

Don't be afraid to ask for help

If you're feeling stressed and want to speak with someone, the caring mental health professionals at Baptist Behavioral Health provide counseling, psychological and psychiatric services for all ages.

Schedule an appointment

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