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Keeping stress in check during the holidays

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While the novel coronavirus COVID-19 will create complications for the approaching holidays, there’s another unwanted guest lurking in the wings — stress.

Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are beloved holidays for many, yet for others, they can create the “holiday blues or worsen existing worries and emotions.

According to Carisa Kessler, Burrell Behavioral Health Crisis Services director, the holidays can be stressful for some people due to a confluence of pressure, memories and loneliness. The added COVID factor will impact people’s plans to travel or spend time with family and friends creating even more anxiety.

“COVID is just another stressor added to an already stressful time,” Kessler said. “For some, the holidays don’t hold positive memories. For others, there’s pressure to get everything done … host parties, buy presents, prepare food, place decorations … and for it to be done flawlessly, extravagantly, and now with added concerns to keep family and friends safe.”

Kessler said one of the greatest difficulties people face during the holidays is loneliness and that it’s important to recognize those feelings and set realistic expectations.

“Human connection is very important,” she said. “Connect with others as much as possible and do things that make you happy rather than focusing on things that make you feel alone. Especially as adults, we can make choices about who, where and with whom we want to spend our time.”

COVID-related physical distancing requirements mean that people will need to get creative to stay socially connected.

“Virtual gatherings will be more common this year, so have fun with them. Think tea parties or karaoke contests,” Kessler said. “Consider a regular check-in schedule with people who are important and supportive. That will give you something to look forward to, especially when things get really busy.”

To maintain mental wellness during the holidays, Kessler said to stay on top of key activities that include taking care of your body, mind and social connections.

“First, get enough sleep, maintain a healthy diet, including drinking lots of water, exercise regularly, and spend some time outside,” she said. “Take care of your mind by setting and maintaining a routine, focusing on things you can control and leaning on your personal beliefs and faith for support. Also, be purposeful about maintaining positive social connections and avoid those who live in negativity.”

Sometimes shaking holiday blues can be difficult, and even short-term mental health problems need to be taken seriously as they can lead to clinical anxiety and depression. Kessler offered advice if someone can’t overcome seasonal stress.

“First, it’s OK to not be OK,” she said. “Be kind and compassionate to yourself and reach out to your support system to share how you’re feeling. In times of stress, we find comfort in what’s already known to us so think of the things that have worked in the past to help you feel calm and relaxed, whether that’s mindfulness, deep breathing exercises or listening to comforting music.”

Despite our best efforts, Kessler said it’s important to not ignore persistent sadness or anxiety. These issues can manifest themselves in physical or emotional changes such as weight loss or gain, inability to sleep, irritability, trouble focusing on routine tasks, or feelings of hopelessness.

“If these symptoms are present, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional,” she said. “One of the hardest and most important steps is just starting the conversation. Don’t be afraid to talk about your concerns.”

Burrell’s Sedalia clinic provides general counseling services, community support and other programs. Telehealth and in-person therapy are available. The clinic is located at 201 W. Third Street, and hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For non-emergency behavioral health resources, call 660-827-2494. For a behavioral health crisis, help is available 24 hours a day by calling 800-395-2132.

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