Set realistic expectations for holidays
- By Suzanne Laurent
Posted Nov. 30, 2014 @ 2:01 am
Peter Fifield, a licensed mental health counselor at Families First Health & Support Center in Portsmouth, talks about holiday stress. Suzanne Laurent photo.
The holiday season is now in full swing.
While it’s a happy time for most, the season can bring dread, especially for those who may have experienced loss or economic setback over the last year. Others may be nervous about being around family members who “push their buttons.”
Of course, there is a huge media influence that raises expectations, with eager shoppers and movies with picture perfect families around the table.
“The holidays can be difficult for those who struggle with mental illness and also for those who don’t,” said Dr. Emily Bray, a psychiatrist in Portsmouth Regional Hospital’s behavioral health unit.
She recommends taking the pressure off yourself.
“Number one, is to reach out for support from your spouse or other family member to help with things like cooking and shopping,” Bray said. “If plans change or fall through, adjust your expectations.”
She also recommends putting self-care skills into practice.
“It’s fine to treat yourself to all the good food offered at gatherings, but try to get back to healthy eating when the party is over,” she said. “Also, it’s important to find ways to exercise indoors during the winter months.”
There is usually alcohol served at holiday festivities, which can be a problem.
“Family dynamics can trigger many who are struggling to maintain sobriety,” Bray said.
If someone must be at a gathering where someone is apt to push your buttons, Bray said to be prepared for the situation.
“Come with answers ready to shift the conversation,” she said. “Also, be sure the supportive people in your family don’t let you get stuck in the same room with the person causing you stress.”
Peter Fifield, a licensed mental health counselor at Families First Health & Support Center in Portsmouth, said there is no doubt that the holidays have significant potential to both increase stress and be a trigger for emotional distress.
“Stress components typically include feelings of having to fit everything in, overspending to please others, or simply being excited about the holiday and subsequently getting less exercise and sleep and indulging in more food and libations,” he said.
Emotionally, the holidays tend to bring nostalgia about moments we spent with friends and loved ones who are no longer around.
“Often times this triggers depressive type symptoms or loneliness because we may not be able to spend time with those loved ones like we once did, be it from a death, divorce or simply due to life changes,” Fifield said.
He added it never hurts to seek someone such as a therapist to work these problems out with as a way to get at the source of the emotional discomfort instead of avoiding it or medicating it.
“Often times, what works to avoid triggers (for abusing alcohol) is making a plan,” Fifield said. “Typically, binge behaviors are not thought out, they are impulsive.”
He recommends having a plan and letting others know about your plan to drink responsibly.
“If you have a plan and others know about it, you are less likely to deviate from the plan and binge drink,” Fifield said.
Another cause for stress is overspending money you don’t have.
“It is wise to sit down with a budget of what you can spend for each person,” said Parkie Boley, a parent educator at Families First.
Boley said the children will remember family traditions when they look back, not what they received as gifts.
“Make memories by decorating together, playing holiday music and making cookies,” Boley said. “You want the kids to remember the joy of the whole season, not just the gift-giving.”
Bray added that many people are lonely during the holidays.
“They are from all walks of life and loneliness is a big concern,” she said. “If someone is lonely, I would encourage them to take advantage of community resources at churches or other gathering places. It’s not only for a meal, but also for companionship.”
Bray said if someone is really struggling over the holidays, to call his or her primary care practitioner.
“The hospitals are open 24/7 and there is always a PCP on call,” she said.
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