Holiday Mental Health Tips

Holiday Mental Health Tips

The holidays can be a happy time of year for many people, as they gather with family and friends, exchange gifts and celebrate traditions. But the changes in family routines and extra demands on time can also cause some stress, especially for children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers some tips to help your family enjoy the best of the holiday season:

·         Try  to keep household routines the same. Stick to your child's usual sleep and mealtime schedules when you can, which may reduce stress and help your family enjoy the holidays.

·         Take care of yourself, both mentally and physically. Children and adolescents are affected by the emotional well-being of their parents and caregivers. Coping with stress successfully can help children learn how to handle stress better, too.

·         Make a plan to focus on one thing at a time. Try a few ideas to balance the hustle and bustle of things like shopping, cooking, and family get-togethers during the holidays: Stop and pay attention to what is happening at the moment, focus your attention on one thing about it, and notice how you are feeling at the time. Withhold immediate judgment, and instead be curious about the experience.

·         Give to others by making it an annual holiday tradition to share your time and talents with people who have less than you do. For example, if your child is old enough, encourage him or her to join you in volunteering to serve a holiday meal at your local food bank or shelter, or sing at a local nursing home. Help your child write a letter to members of the armed forces stationed abroad who can't be home with their own family during the holidays.

·         Remember that many children and adults experience a sense of loss, sadness or isolation during the holidays. It is important to be sensitive to these feelings and ask for help for you, your children, family members or friends if needed.

·         Don't feel pressured to over-spend on gifts. Consider making one or two gifts. Help your child make a gift for a parent, grandparent, or other important adults and friends. Chances are, those gifts will be the most treasured ones and will teach your child many important lessons. 

·         Enjoy the holidays for what they are -- time to enjoy with your family. So, be a family, do things together like sledding or playing board games, and spend time visiting with relatives, neighbors and friends.

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9 Steps for Reducing Stress this Holiday Season

December is officially upon us. With the holiday season in full swing, we are more likely to encounter the unforeseen travel delays, frustratingly long lines, and triggering interpersonal interactions that tend to be commonplace this time of year. These situations can push our buttons and test our limits. Here are some strategies to use when you feel like your patience is running low.

1) Realize that some things are out of your control

This can be tough, but the sooner this recognition occurs, the better. We cannot control the weather, the traffic, or the actions of other people. When we fight against what is out of our control, we often end up feeling more miserable and stressed out. Instead of stressing about what you cannot change, give yourself permission to let go of the struggle and move forward.

2) Realize that some things are in your control

Hooray! While it is not always easy, we do have the power to control our actions and reactions. We also have the ability to influence our state of consciousness (see #4), mental processes (see #5), and physiological responses (see #6). By effectively drawing upon your own personal resources, you allow yourself the opportunity to regain control and feel more at ease. By focusing on what you can control, you become not only less stressed, but more empowered.

3) Learn to surrender and accept

Instead of resisting against the things that are out of our control, we can choose to surrender. There is absolutely no connotation of weakness or defeat by choosing this route. To surrender is to find acceptance for that which we cannot change. When we release resistance and welcome acceptance, we actively reduce our own suffering. Finding acceptance helps decrease stress and other difficult emotions while simultaneously increasing feelings of liberation. By learning to surrender, you actually win.

4) Be mindful

Pause for a moment. Discern what is happening inside of you right now. Try to observe your internal experience, just as it is, without judgment. See if you can be an objective witness to your own inner-workings. Encourage yourself to become more conscious of what is transpiring within you. From there, you can more clearly see what is happening around you. Being mindful is a way to lessen the gap between the stressed-out version of yourself and who you are when functioning at your optimum level. Practicing mindfulness brings you one step closer to becoming the best version of yourself.

5) Take charge of your thoughts

Although sometimes it might not seem like it, we are in control of our thoughts. The goal is not to ignore or deny the thoughts, but rather to clearly see them, acknowledge them, and then transform them. Try to honestly type out your thoughts or write them in a journal. Once you identify your thought patterns, you are better equipped to change your thinking from negative to positive. Since our thoughts so greatly impact our emotions and behaviors, this shift can play a crucial role in decreasing stress and the actions that accompany it. As the saying goes, “what you think, you become”.

6) Use your breath

Your breath is a tool that you always have with you. It is there for you no matter where you are, no matter who you are with, and no matter what is going on around you. Your breath connects your mind and body and it can be your greatest ally in dissipating stress. As you breathe in, think of the word “inhale” and as you breathe out, think of the word “exhale”. Continue to silently and steadily label your inhales and exhales until you find a steady rhythm in your breathing. Keep focusing on your breath to calm your nervous system and stay present. Like icicles melting outside, watch your stress slowly start to disappear.

7) Look on the bright side

Again, this can be challenging, but also entirely doable. See if you can focus on the positive or find the silver lining in frustrating and stressful situations. Try to think of something you are grateful for, rather than automatically honing in on the negative or what is going wrong. Gratitude has been shown to help reduce negative emotions such as stress and improve connection to the self and others. Also, sometimes the most disastrous seeming situations are the ones that actually end up turning out the best. Open yourself up to all the possibilities.

8) Take care of yourself

Self-care is a potent remedy for stress and a main ingredient in our overall well-being. Often, the more stressed we become, the less we take care of ourselves. Although it may take time, self-care is time well-invested and can prevent burn out. You might try exercising, taking a shower or bath, drinking herbal tea, eating a balanced and healthy meal, resting/ getting a good night of sleep, going for a massage or manicure/pedicure or engaging in any other relaxing activity that brings you peace. It is impossible to pour from an empty cup, so try to replenish yours as much as possible with healthy amounts of self-care.

9) Try not to compare

Relinquish the temptation to compare yourself to others. Whether on social media or in person, comparing can lead to distorted perceptions and feelings of stress. Notice if comparing is a habitual or automatic response for you. Rather than operating from a scarcity mindset, aim to cultivate an attitude of joyful abundance. Believe that you already possess all the qualities necessary to attract happiness and success. Sometimes it is just a matter of unveiling and embracing those attributes that may be cloaked in fear or self-doubt. Sprinkle in a word or two of kindness and provide yourself a calming elixir to soothe holiday stress away.

We all experience stress to varying degrees. Some situations and exchanges can be more provoking than others. Mindfulness techniques such as the ones described in the steps above have an infinite number of potential applications for counteracting stress and other types of emotional distress. Try using these tactics in various situations in your daily life and see what happens.

Therapy is a great place to process the causes and effects of stress beyond the holiday season. With the new year around the corner, now is as good a time as any to get a head start on your goals for 2018. If you are curious about learning more or want to explore ways to utilize these skills on a regular basis, contact me today!

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Mindfulness May Ease Holiday Habits & Stresses

New research from American University proposes that mindfulness can counteract the adverse impacts of mindless consumption due to automatic thoughts, habits, and unhealthy behavior patterns.

In the article, Sonya A. Grier, Ph.D., M.B.A., explores the challenges associated with realizing the transformative potential of mindful consumption.  “Consumers can engage in mindful consumption practices to potentially mitigate the adverse effects that mindless consumption, such as overeating and drinking, or frivolous shopping, has on an individual’s well-being,” said Grier.

Mindfulness is a type of awareness that enables a trained mind to make deliberate choices and be less susceptible to persuasive messaging.

For the untrained mind, objective awareness is regularly sidetracked by an abundance of memories, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and judgements, resulting in the squandering of time, energy, and attention, which are all limited resources for consumers.

“In a fast-paced world, mindful consumption can help consumers stay in touch with the most important priorities in their lives and help them self-regulate to make choices based on those priorities instead of bad habits,” said Grier.

More specifically, the research suggests mindfulness consumption training can lead to:

·         financial well-being — Mindfulness consumption practices can lead to an increased ability to make skillful financial decisions that are aligned with deeper values and facilitate well-being.

·         less materialism — Mindfulness consumption practices can result in an increased capacity to manage societal pressures to spend money or value possessions and greater ability to find ways to satisfy psychological needs at a deeper level. Additionally, mindful consumers are less susceptible to marketing tactics and more likely to have higher self-esteem as they are not motivated by approval from self or others.

·         family ties — Mindfulness consumption practices can lead to an enhanced quality of time and experience with one’s family, along with an increased ability to make better decisions for the well-being of family members.

·         environmental well-being — Mindfulness can help consumers have a slower consumption rate, which helps sustain happiness with products and reduce disposal behavior.

·         societal well-being — Lastly, mindful consumption practices can result in a heightened ability to practice openness and tolerance toward other groups and perspectives.

To practice mindful consumption, Grier recommends developing awareness of what triggers unhealthy behavior or relationships, pay attention to the body’s reaction to the consumption of food or products, and to understand the impermanence of cravings.

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Free Hotline Numbers

If your depression has caused you to lose a job, drop out of school, lose touch with family or friends, or if you’ve noticed changes in your sleep and appetite that have not improved, contact one of these free resources to learn more about treating your depression.

·         Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

SAMHSA’s behavioral health treatment services locator is an easy and anonymous way to locate treatment facilities and other resources, such as support groups and counselors, to treat and manage depression.

·         National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

If your depression is leading to suicidal thoughts, call the National Hopeline to connect with a depression treatment center in your area. The Hopeline also offers a live chat feature for those who don’t want to (or are unable to) call and can dispatch emergency crews to your location if necessary.

·         National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

This national hotline is another valuable resource for people whose depression has escalated to suicidal or other harmful thoughts. Their network of crisis centers provide emotional support and guidance to people in distress and are also available via a chat service and a special hotline number for the hearing impaired: 1-800-799-4889.

·         National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663

This resource provides brief interventions for youth who are dealing with pregnancy, sexual abuse, child abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts. They also provide referrals to local counseling, treatment centers, and shelters.