Holidays and your mental health: how to manage stress and changes to tradition amid pandemic

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Holidays in 2020 come with rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health leaders to social distance, keep gatherings within immediate households, and limit travel.

These health and safety guidelines of separation and “stay at home”, might go against the traditions that are synonymous with the holiday season. These changes could lead to more stress and anxiety than usual.

Finding ways to cope with these changes is imperative for mental health and wellness. Not just within ourselves, but also, for the people we love.

“We should keep in mind that it really is physical distancing. Social distancing is a bit of a misnomer when you physically distant from one another in terms of the CDC guidelines, but which should lead into socialization,” said Dr. Patrick Jensen, a psychiatrist with Peninsula.

Dr. Jensen said the best way to cope with the changes in tradition is to admit they exist.

“I also think about whenever our mind begins to wonder about the future and the uncertainties and the worry, and so forth, is to acknowledge that your mind went there. And then just gently redirect yourself back to the moment you’re having, or conversing with someone right now,” said Jensen.

Another way to combat stress over the holidays is to continue to find activities that ground us and make self-care a priority.

“If something has worked in the past, has helped you cope with a difficult situation, try to return to that very coping skill that helped you in the past, oftentimes will help you again,” said Jensen.

Coping skills like exercise, talking with a trusted friend, talking to trusted family to debrief and process your emotions, relaxation techniques like breathing, or taking a warm bath.

“Don’t forget them. Don’t take them off your arsenal. However, if they’re not working anymore, you might need to reach out to further clinical help. If you’re overwhelmed or depressed or medicate with alcohol or icing or all the other coping skills are not serving you, then reach out for professional help, whether that’s psychotherapy or whether that’s medical help with psychiatry or whether it’s recovery groups,” said Jensen.

Reaching out to family and friends that might be distant or have changed in their behavior is another way Jensen said we can help with mental health in the people we love.

“If a family member is starting to have lots of anger outbursts, could be the grieving. And one way you could cut through the anger to say perhaps, ‘is there something that you’re grieving or something that’s making you upset or is it something that you’ve lost?’ and might help to open the door for empathy and for them to communicate? Are they asking what if questions?” said Jensen.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available and open every day: 1-800-273-8255.

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