Ahh, the holidays are finally here! It can be such a special time, filled with holiday parties, family fun, vacations, and more. But if you feel 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 holiday spirit is in short supply.
Resources Editors talked to two local experts about how health and happiness often go hand in hand, and what people can do to make their vacation experiences as stress-free as possible. Amy Axum, 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 locations throughout South Florida.
Resources: 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 of medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. We also know that people who have a chronic illness are more vulnerable to stress, which can lead to a mental health diagnosis. Individuals experience stress in different ways but generally it produces tightness or tension in the body, headaches, teeth grinding, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances or perhaps a combination of these.
Dr. Myshkin: Our mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. People living with a mental illness are also at a higher risk of experiencing a wide range of physical health concerns and chronic illnesses. For example, increased anxiety and depression can result from hormonal imbalances and altered sleep cycles. This can directly affect our heart, digestion and overall longevity.
Resources: Do you usually see a spike in cases during the holidays?
Dr. Myshkin: We do. This is often due to families and friends celebrating together, a change in our routines, and a time for reflection. These emotional stressors often cause medical symptoms as well, and are commonly seen more in our urgent care centers during this time of year.
Amy Exum: Although stress usually runs high during the holidays, many people try to “just” get through the season and it’s understandable. They worry that acknowledging their stress will dampen their holiday spirit and so they wait until the New Year to address their issues. Plus, many people are so busy planning or attending holiday gatherings that self-care just gets put on the backburner.
Resources: Are urgent care patients ever referred to mental health counselors?
Dr. Myshkin: Mental health screenings are an important part of patient care at Baptist Health and we also do them regularly in our Urgent Care Centers. If needed, we refer our Urgent Care patients to mental health counselors.
Resources: What are the most common holiday stressors for people?
Amy Exum: For many adults, the whole gift-giving-shopping-spending process ranks pretty high on the list. This year, the increased cost 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 there may be challenges in affording that “perfect gift”. ,
On top of that, we are coming off the midterm elections and are still in a time of great political controversy. Political discussions are often a dangerous “third rail” topic at many family gatherings, and some people may prefer not to engage in the debates that take place during the festivities.
Holiday travel can be especially stressful, with drivers facing high gas prices and congested highways and travelers facing long lines and the prospect of flight delays and cancellations. Adding to the potential for stress is the uncertainty that comes with travel in the era of COVID, especially at this time of year when flu and RSV are running rampant across the country.
Another common source of stress is felt by those who have experienced the loss of a loved one. For them, the holidays can trigger feelings of grief and sadness, especially if it’s their first time celebrating without their loved one.
Stress can be a little different for children. They’re experiencing a lack of structure with school breaks, and changes in routine, diet, and after-school activities can lead to behavioral problems. Children are also sponges and although they may not express it, they can and often do experience their family’s stress as their own stress.
Resources: How do these stresses affect people’s behavior and their relationships?
Amy Exum: Although the holidays are considered “the happiest time of the year,” some people may feel impatient, irritable, or irritable, and they may find that their relationships with family and friends are strained. They may also rely on alcohol or other substances to help them cope. For children, tantrums, hyperactivity, sleep disturbances or gastrointestinal issues may be seen along with an increase in disagreements with siblings or friends.
Resources: What advice would you give patients for staying happy and healthy during the holidays?
Dr. Myshkin: The holidays can often be a stressful time for people. Some helpful tips for staying happy and healthy this time of year are following a normal sleep schedule, participating in regular exercise, and maintaining a balanced diet. Talking to a mental health counselor is also an important step in managing these feelings.
Amy Exum: First of all, let’s all acknowledge that it’s completely normal for our stress levels to increase during the holidays. We don’t want them to become so overwhelming that we take it out on ourselves or others. My advice is to manage your expectations, prioritize what is important and know that things will not go exactly according to plan. Focus on what matters. Practice gratitude – Researchers have found that people who practice gratitude tend to be happier and it can even help improve relationships. Reinvent your perspective by trying something different like an exercise class, breath work, a new hobby, or journaling. Take time for yourself, because it’s easy to become irritable when you’re tired and overwhelmed. And while it’s good to spend time with others, make time to do the things you enjoy. Give yourself time to “reset,” which we all need from time to time. Lastly, don’t forget the basics. Get enough sleep, eat well and engage in physical activity. There will be days when you will not be able to follow it but maintaining your routine as much as possible will help in reducing your stress.
Resources: What approach have you personally found helpful for reducing holiday stress?
Amy Exum: I make sure I have at least a day or two set aside to do nothing, a “free day” of sorts, where I don’t get to stay up late, wear pajamas all day, sleep with my pets, and Allowed to have breakfast for dinner if I want. I also spend time on and off the phone or computer screen. Studies have shown that time spent in nature can actually improve your mental health and cognition. Being in South Florida, we’re fortunate to have “outdoor weather” all year round, but even if you live in an area with snow or freezing temperatures, it can be comforting to be outside and get some fresh air.
Resources: How can Baptist Health help people reduce their stress and stay healthy?
Amy Exum: We are here to help you stay fit and healthy. Stress is a normal part of life, but if you’re having trouble managing your stress, reach out to a professional for help. There are many resources available to you including mental health counseling on demand through Baptist Health Care. Baptist Health offers a wide variety of community health classes throughout the week that are available in person or online and are free to all. Maintaining regular visits with your primary care doctor is also important, as a healthy body supports a healthy mind.
Dr. Myshkin: Every year during the holidays, we see people who fall off ladders injured while fixing holiday lights and decorations. Some people may need a COVID test before going on holiday. And others may be feeling sick and want to get better in time for the holidays. Our Urgent Care Centers are open from 9am to 9pm, seven days a week (holiday hours vary – please check beforehand). Each one is staffed by Baptist Health doctors, physician assistants and nurses who are trained to handle virtually any type of illness or injury.