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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

by Brian Rood, PhD 

The holiday season has been in full swing: festive music, ornate decorations, and images of family traditions and celebrations. Yet, the holiday season and the turn of a new year, often come with difficulties and stressors for many individuals. For those who are struggling financially, expectations regarding gift-giving can be anxiety-provoking. For those who do not have family or close friends, the idea of spending the holidays alone can be upsetting and painful. Finally, for those who are struggling to meet their basic needs — shelter, food, and safety — the holiday season can be a time of particular hardship. Although it is normal to experience some level of stress this time of year, it is important to consider if and when you might want to reach out to someone for additional support.

How do I know if my stress is becoming too much to handle on my own?

There are a number of common experiences that might indicate a need for additional support. Some individuals respond to stress by becoming more depressed and notice feelings of sadness for long periods of time, losing interest in activities that used to bring happiness or pleasure, experiencing changes in diet and sleep, wanting to be alone, and having negative thoughts about oneself. Other individuals, however, respond to stress by becoming more anxious and notice feeling stressed and on edge for long periods of time, feeling bothered by worrying thoughts, have difficulty with sleep, feeling frequent stomach or chest discomfort, and avoiding stressful situations. If you are experiencing any of the above, this might indicate that there is a need for support.

Where and how do I find support for the stress that I am facing?

Although it can be a scary experience to struggle with daily stress and sometimes feel that nothing can be done to make the situation better, there are many ways that individuals can get support:

1. Talking to someone you trust. When faced with stress, many individuals choose to keep the experience to themselves. This could be for many reasons, such as believing that the stress is “not that big of a deal,” feeling ashamed or guilty, believing that others would not understand, or not wanting to burden others. Similar to filling a balloon with water, it can eventually get to the point where it becomes too stressful to hold everything in and then the “balloon” might burst: this is when individuals lash out at others or themselves and sometimes turn to unhealthy behaviors, such as drugs and alcohol. Talking to others about your stress can help to relieve the pressure, clear your mind, and find hope that difficult situations can change. As a psychologist, I often hear from people how helpful it is to have a space to “get everything off their chest,” and to feel heard and supported. You might find this support from a close friend, family member, or health professional you trust.

2. Using community resources. We are fortunate that the Twin Cities has many resources available for individuals in need of support. If you have access to the Internet, a great resource is auntbertha.com. You can enter your zip code, and find a listing of free or reduced cost services in your area specific to food, housing, transit, mental health, work, and legal, among many others. In the West End, you can come to United Family Medicine and get connected to a social worker, therapist as well as many other providers who can help you work on next steps.

3. Taking healthy action that works for you. No two people are the same; therefore, we know that healthy ways of responding to stress can be different for everyone. I usually ask individuals the following questions: Besides drugs and alcohol (if applicable), what do you like to do that helps to take your mind off the stress? Who would be open to doing something fun or enjoyable with you? What is an activity or experience that brings you pleasure? What is something that you have not tried yet and would like to do? If you were not feeling sad or anxious, what would you be doing? Considering how you would respond to these questions will indicate some behaviors that might be helpful in managing stress.

                The holiday season can be a time of great joy — and also a time of great difficulty. If you are struggling, please consider reaching out for support. If you have many resources and a great support network already, then please consider helping others in need.

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