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Managing stress, prioritizing mental health during the holidays

Published: Dec. 9, 2020 at 5:19 AM EST
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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ) - The holidays are a stressful time even during non-pandemic years. So this year, it’s even more important to look at ways to prioritize your mental health.

“Stress levels do go up during the holiday season,” Caroline Mullins, behavioral wellness outreach specialist with New River Valley Community Services, said. “There’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of expectations. And lets add a pandemic to it and we have even more stress.”

She added simple lifestyle adjustments can alleviate some of that pressure people feel around Christmas time.

“One tip would be, of course, limiting your social media and news coverage,” she said.

Too much information or engaging in conflict on Facebook can be overwhelming.

Try not to start your day on your phone, but instead with gratitude, a good book, or even meditation.

“It really helps center you,” Mullins explained.

Focusing on things within our control also makes a big difference. And most things within our control is how we treat our physical body.

“I can go for a walk. I can eat right,” Mullins said. “I can do those things to keep myself together and my family together.”

And when it comes to making decisions in times of stress, Mullins says don’t forget to H.A.L.T.

“H.A.L.T. stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired,” Mullins said. “So don’t let yourself become hungry, angry, lonely or tired.”

These factors can cloud our judgment and heighten our emotional sensitivity.

“We want to eat right. When we’re getting angry, we need to take a deep breath, take a walk, do what we need to do. Lonely? We need to reach out to people. They’re not always going to reach out to us. We need to take that step. And of course we need to work on sleep.”

Each of these are mostly within our control, so by prioritizing our physical health, we can be more open to welcoming positivity into our lives.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the number of people experiencing anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. However, it’s a myth that these diseases increase during the holidays. While some people might experience more stress or Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter, mental health experts don’t see a huge increase in the number of suicides during the holidays.

Anxiety and depression can really affect anyone at any time.

“We need to be aware that that is always something we should be concerned about and we need to look for those signs and symptoms,” Mullins said.

There are regular stressors that come up in life and during the holidays, but prolonged feelings of sadness, fatigue, apathy, anger or pain need to be addressed.

“If someone is going through some sort of a crisis, we want to be aware of what that might look like and how we might want to talk to them about it,” Mullins said. “We definitely don’t want to sweep it under the rug.”

The New River Valley Community Services offers a wide variety of resources to get you or a loved one help.

“There is no shame in getting help,” she said. “It’s a humbling experience to realize that you need to talk to somebody, but once you do it’s freeing and it makes you feel so much better and you can really have control over things.”

Money can be a deterrent from getting help, but the NRVCS offers a lot of resources for free.

“We have a program called Mental Health First Aid and it’s a class you can take,” Mullins said. “It’s all virtual right now and its free. And it helps people understand the signs and symptoms. It de-stigmatizes a lot of things around mental health and suicide. It’s the CPR/First Aid of the mental health world.”

A class on mental health for youth and mental health for adults is offered every other month. Click here to sign up for a class.

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