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“Okay – I have to pick up gifts for the kids teachers, what do they like? While I am here, I should probably grab some laundry detergent. Did I ever switch the laundry this morning? Oh – that reminds me, I need to change the sheets on the bed for before my parents come for the week. Did I ever RSVP to the neighbors Christmas party? I better text them to let them know we can make it. I wonder if they need me to bring something.”

If you feel like this is a glimpse into your head right now, you are not alone. While the holidays are supposed to be cheerful, the hustle and bustle of the end-of year celebrations can trigger stress, anxiety, and sadness. You may be feeling an additional layer of anxiety or stress due to the ongoing pandemic to top regular holiday stressors stemming from increased financial burdens, packed calendars, endless shopping lists, hosting celebrations, or grief over the loss of a loved one.

When increased stress goes unmanaged, there is a risk that it could lead to additional issues such as anxiety, depression, isolation, and loneliness. If you are experiencing any of these (or those not listed), it can be helpful to have a coping plan in place.  Here are some tips to help you cope when you begin to feel stressed, sad, or disconnected.

Talk with a Friend or Loved One

When you notice you are starting to feel stressed or sad, reach out to a friend, even when it feels difficult. It may also be helpful to designate a friend or family member to check in on your when they have not heard from you in a couple of days to check up and see how you are feeling.

Get Outside

While soaking up the sun may be difficult during the winter seasons in the northeast, be sure to get outside on days even on a gray day. Studies have shown that spending time outside can naturally lower stress, increase energy, and improve overall mental health.

Take Time to Yourself

Even if it is just 15 minutes alone, be sure to take time to yourself without distraction to rejuvenate and recharge. Ideas to help your recharge include:

  • Taking a relaxing bubble bath
  • Meditate
  • Take an evening walk and stargazing
  • Get a massage
  • Light a candle and read a book

Set Boundaries

Give yourself permission to set boundaries when it comes to challenging family members. Create a plan to remove yourself from a family member that may trigger stress or anxiety if you start to feel overwhelmed or too stressed. If you know a challenging family member(s) will be at a gathering you are attending, let the host know you are only able to stay an hour or two. Another option is to remove yourself for a short time and take a brief walk to reset. It is okay (and often times crucial) to set boundaries.

Acknowledge your Feelings

If you have recently lost a loved one or you cannot be with your loved ones this holiday, acknowledge your feelings and recognize that it is okay to feel sadness and grief. If you feel the need to cry or express your feelings, it is okay to do so. It is important that you be kind to yourself and take the time to recognize, validate, and process the emotions that may arise.

Practice readily available coping skills for when you may need them such as deep breathing, taking a walk, or listening to music.

Recognize the Symptoms

Stress often starts with physical symptoms, such as muscle/shoulder tension, a headache, or teeth grinding. Pay attention to these symptoms so that you can practice coping methods like taking a walk, practicing breathing exercises, or anything that will help you stay grounded.

Preventing Holiday Stress

In addition to utilizing coping methods, there are additional steps you can take that may help prevent some stressors before they happen:

Plan Ahead

Planning ahead of time can help you not only manage your time and lists but can help to ensure you have time to yourself to recharge. Plan a calendar with allocated time to shop, bake, and visit family and friends. If you are hosting, plan your menu ahead of time so that you can create a shopping list and pick up ingredients in advance to avoid missing items.

When planning your activities, be sure to include plans for downtime for yourself; it is important that you allow yourself space that does not have to perfect.

Set Realistic Expectations for the Holidays

The holidays likely do not look the same as they have in prior years. Recognize that they do not have to be perfect – as families change and grow, certain traditions and rituals will often change as well. Create new traditions while bringing in some of your old rituals. Creating new traditions do not erase any of your past memories.

Stick to a Budget

Often times, the financial burdens of travel and gifts can be a trigger for stress and anxiety. Set a budget ahead of time so that you can shop for deals and keep your spending within your means. Alternatives to help ease the budget include:

  • Thoughtful homemade gifts
  • Family gift exchange so that you are only buying for one person
  • Donate to charity in someone’s name
  • Gift experiences rather than physical gifts (it can even something simple like offering to babysit for a night, or ask for that as a gift for yourself)

Seek Additional Help When It Is Too Much

Despite your best efforts, managing your mental health during the holidays may be challenging. While you may feel isolated from these feelings, know that you are far from alone. If you find these feelings are lingering, reach out to BHSN for help by calling 518-926-7100 in Queensbury or 518-563-8000 for Plattsburgh to set up an appointment to speak with our mental health professionals virtually or in-person.