Ahhh, the holidays are finally here! It can be such a special time, with holiday parties, family fun, vacations and more. But if you’re feeling more stressed than usual this time of year, experts say not to worry, you’re not alone. For some people, the holidays bring more stress than joy, and the holiday spirit is scarce.
Resource The editors spoke with two local experts about how health and happiness often go hand in hand and what people can do to make their vacation experience as hassle-free as possible. Amy Exum, LHMC, is a licensed mental health counselor and community health manager for Baptist Health, and David Mishkin, MD, is an emergency medicine specialist for Baptist Health Urgent Care, which has 25 sites in South Florida. .
Resource: How does a person’s state of mind affect their physical health?
Amy Exum: We know that people with certain mental health diagnoses are at higher risk for conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. We also know that people with chronic conditions are vulnerable to stress, which can progress to a mental health diagnosis. Individuals experience stress in different ways, but in general it produces a feeling of tightness or tension in the body, headaches, teeth grinding, gastrointestinal problems, trouble sleeping or perhaps be a combination of these.
Dr Mishkin: Our mental health and our physical health are fundamentally linked. People living with mental illness are at higher risk of suffering from a wide range of physical health problems and chronic diseases as well. For example, increased anxiety and depression can lead to hormonal imbalances and altered sleep cycles. It can directly affect our heart, our digestion, and our overall longevity.
Resource: Do you usually see an increase in cases during the holidays?
Dr Mishkin: We do. This is often due to families and friends coming together to celebrate, changes in our daily routines, and time for reflection. These emotional stressors also often cause medical symptoms and are more commonly seen in our urgent care centers at this time of year.
Amy Exum: Although the stress generally increases during the holidays, many people try to “pass” the season and it is understandable. They worry that acknowledging their stress will only weaken their holiday spirit, so they wait until the New Year to fix their problems. Plus, many people are so busy planning or attending holiday gatherings that self-care is simply put on the back burner.
Resource: Are urgent care patients ever referred to mental health counsellors?
Dr Mishkin: Mental health screening is an important part of patient care at Baptist Health and something we also do regularly at our urgent care centers. If necessary, we refer our urgent care patients to mental health counsellors.
Resource: What are the most common holiday stressors for people?
Amy Exum: For many adults, the whole process of gifting, shopping, and spending tends to rank pretty high on the list. This year, the rising costs of so many different basic goods and services over the past year also means that families may have less money to spend on gifts, which can lead to financial disagreements between partners. or difficulties affording that “perfect gift”. .”
On top of that, we are coming out of mid-term elections and we are still going through a period of great political discord. Political discussions are often a dangerous “third rail” topic at many family gatherings and some people may simply prefer not to attend rather than get embroiled in arguments at what should be a festive time.
Holiday travel can be particularly stressful, with drivers dealing with high gas prices and congested highways and circulars coping with long lines and the likelihood of flight delays and cancellations. The uncertainty that comes with travel in the age of COVID, especially at this time of year when influenza and RSV are rampant across the country, compounds the potential for stress.
Another common source of stress is felt by people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. For them, parties can trigger feelings of grief and sadness, especially if it’s the first time they’ve celebrated without their loved one.
Stressors may be slightly different for children. They experience a lack of structure during school holidays, and changes in routine, diet, and extracurricular activities can lead to behavioral issues. Children are also sponges and although they don’t express it, they can and often do experience their family’s stress as their own.
Resource: How do these stressors tend to affect people’s behaviors and their relationships?
Amy Exum: Although the holidays are supposed to be the “happiest time of the year,” some people may feel impatient, angry, or grumpy, and they may find their relationships with family and friends strained. They may also rely on alcohol or other substances to help them cope. For children, one may see temper tantrums, hyperactivity, trouble sleeping, or gastrointestinal issues as well as increased disagreements with siblings or friends.
Resource: What advice would you give to patients to stay happy and healthy during the holidays?
Dr Mishkin: The holidays can often be a stressful time for people. Some helpful tips for staying happy and healthy at this time of year are to stick to a normal sleep schedule, exercise regularly, and maintain a balanced diet. Talking with a mental health counselor is also an important step in dealing with these feelings.
Amy Exum: First of all, let’s all recognize that it’s completely normal for our stress levels to increase during the holidays. We just don’t want them to become so overwhelming that we start to lash out at ourselves or others. My advice is to manage your expectations, prioritize what’s important, and know that things probably won’t go exactly as planned. Focus on what matters. Practicing gratitude – researchers have found that people who practice gratitude are happier and it can also help improve relationships. Reframe your perspective by trying different things like an exercise class, breathing work, a new hobby, or journaling. Take time for yourself, because it’s easy to get grumpy when you’re tired and overwhelmed. And while it’s good to spend time with others, find time to do things you love. Give yourself time to “reset”, which we all need from time to time. Finally, don’t forget the basics. Get enough sleep, eat well and be physically active. There will be days when you can’t follow through, but sticking to your routine as much as possible will help reduce your stress.
Resource: What approach have you personally found helpful in reducing holiday stress?
Amy Exum: I make sure I have at least a day or two scheduled for doing nothing, a sort of “free day”, where I’m allowed to wake up late, wear pajamas all day, snuggle up with my pets and have breakfast for dinner if i want. I also spend time outdoors and away from phone or computer screens. Studies have shown that time spent in nature can actually improve your mental health and cognition. Being in South Florida, we are blessed with a year-round “outdoor climate”, but even if you live in an area with snow or cooler temperatures, being outside and taking a little fresh air can be restorative.
Resource: How can Baptist Health help people reduce stress and stay healthy?
Amy Exum: We are here to help you stay healthy and well. Stress is a part of life, but if you’re having trouble managing your stress, contact a professional for help. There are many resources available to you, including mental health counseling through Baptist Health Care on Demand. Baptist Health also offers a wide variety of community health classes throughout the week, available in person or online and free to everyone. It’s also important to maintain regular visits with your primary care physician, as a healthy body supports a healthy mind.
Dr Mishkin: Every year during the holidays, we see people who have injured themselves falling from ladders while stringing on Christmas lights and decorations. Some people may need a COVID test before going on vacation. And others may feel sick and just want to get better in time for the holidays. Our Urgent Care Centers are open 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. seven days a week (holiday hours may vary – please check first). Each is staffed with Baptist Health physicians, physician assistants, and nurses who are trained to treat virtually any type of illness or injury.
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