M. Christine Macbeth: Addressing the stress that comes with holidays

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PITTSFIELD — The holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year for many of us. Expectations run high, economic strains can dampen good cheer, and family rifts or personal losses can complicate even the merriest celebrations.

According to a recent survey on Stress in America by the American Psychological Association (APA), adults today are more likely to find family responsibilities more stressful than they have in past years. It's easy to feel overwhelmed year-round but the month leading up to holidays can be a particularly difficult time of year to navigate.

The holidays generally bring an increase in feelings of isolation. Days are shorter, the weather is colder and people tend to spend more time in their homes. For those who are on their own, the feelings of isolation can lead to bouts of extreme loneliness and depression.

Caught up in our own hectic holiday to-do lists, we tend to forget about others who may be on their own and struggling. Maybe it's a neighbor, a relative, or a fellow member of your local church or temple. If you know of someone who may be on their own during the holidays, check in and just say, "Hi." This simple gesture of connection can go along way in easing feelings of loneliness.

If you are the one who is on your own this holiday season, it's important to remember there are resources available to help you if you are struggling with feelings of depression or isolation. Our Acute Care Crisis Team's motto is, "No crisis is too big or too small." Members of our team are in your community just a phone call away, ready to connect you to the help and support you need. There's never a reason to go it alone.

Young need help, too

Adults are not the only ones feeling the stress this time of year. Having an extended holiday break at home can be emotionally taxing for young people as well. After a few weeks of no homework, no sleep, and potentially lots of parties or video games, young people often experience an increase in behavioral problems as they struggle to get back into a structured routine.

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Common symptoms may include feeling nervous and anxious, procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities, feeling overwhelmed or fatigued, and experiencing negative thoughts or disruption in sleeping habits. Problems concentrating or changes in eating habits are also linked to stress.

To ensure a smooth transition back into the routine after the school break, family members can help young people manage their stress at home before they become overwhelmed.

The following are healthy and long-lasting techniques anyone can use to make holiday stress — and other stressful times — more manageable:

* Move your body: Physical activity is one of the most effective stress busters. Find activities your whole family can enjoy - hiking, biking, skateboarding or walking — and build them into your routine. Alternatively, young people may enjoy physical activities for managing stress that include a social component. Whether it is team sports, or kayaking or skiing with a friend or two, teens are more likely to have fun — and keep at it — if they are active with friends.

* Get enough shut-eye: Most people do not get enough sleep at night. Children and teens should get between eight and 11 hours of sleep each night. Adults 18 and over should get between seven and nine hours of sleep. In order to maximize chances of a better night's sleep, cut back on the screen time in the late evening hours. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol late in the day as well as any adrenalizing activities too close to bedtime.

* Talk through it: Managing stress is so much easier when others lend a hand. Encourage young people to talk to a parent, teacher or other trusted adult about their struggles. If you are an adult, talk to a friend, clergy, colleague or someone else you trust and respect. They may be able to help you find ways to cope with stressful times.

Most importantly, remember that your mental health is important and deserves just as much attention as your physical health -- not only around the holidays but throughout the year.

M. Christine Macbeth, ACSW, LICSW, is president and Chief Executive Officer of the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.


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