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Commentary: Don’t let the ‘Stress Grinch’ steal your holidays


The 10th Medical Operations Squadron’s Family Advocacy Program, and it’s Family Readiness Center at the U.S. Air Force Academy, offer a variety of helpful individual and group counseling services to Airmen and their families. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

Commentary by Laurie Wilson, Nov. 15, 2018

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — They’re here. The holidays have recycled again and no matter where we look, we’re reminded we ought to be filled with boundless joy.

So, we plaster on smiles and juggle schedules going through the roof, burning both ends of our candles.

We negotiate unexpected travel hassles, maneuver extended family face time, handle difficult gift-buying decisions, and produce menus tailored to picky dietary needs.

For some, all this “joy making” can lead to overwhelming stress, anger or even depression. Many cope with deep sadness, dread, or loneliness while trying to appear happy.

That’s not uncommon, said Jeremy Morales, the 10th Medical Operations Squadron’s Family Advocacy Program manager.

“This time of year can bring up so much intense emotion mixed with mounting stress,” Morales said. “[Plus] the culture around expected spending can really put many in a financial bind.”

While depression is a year-round diagnosed medical condition, Morales says stress and anxiety during November and December can cause even unusually content individuals to experience a deep disappointment or sadness.

Add to that the general divisiveness that seems to permeate social media these days, and it’s understandable why the Healthline Wellness website shows the holiday season is a high season for mental health professionals. Some of us just might feel ill-prepared to be “jolly.”

So let’s talk holiday coping skills. We all deserve to survive the holidays intact, and hopefully create some memorable moments of joy for ourselves in the process.

Dealing with Holiday depression and emotions:

The first thing you can do to improve your mood is to practice self-care. Maintain a healthy diet and a consistent sleep pattern, and monitor your alcohol consumption.Don’t forget to exercise. Even a short walk with a friend or a pet can do wonders. 

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry’s Primary Care Companion, as little as 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise can provide an immediate mood boost similar to  antidepressant medication.

Finding a support group with people who are experiencing similar issues can help too.

Lean on local resources,” Morales said. “The Family Advocacy Center and the Mental Health Clinic at the Academy have a host of caring staff members equipped to help, especially during the holiday season. Our services include individual, couples and family counseling, and assorted classes ranging from parenting skills to maintaining healthy relationships.”

Morales said if feelings of sadness during the holidays are accompanied by suicidal thoughts, do one of the following immediately: Call 911, go to a hospital emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK/8255.

Tips for Handling Holiday Stress

But not everyone is suicidal. Some people are just overwhelmed. There’s numerous ways to handle the typical holiday stress. Here are some of Morales’ suggestions:

— Slow down. The holidays are filled with endless options for activity. Set boundaries and say “no” when you need down time.

— Keep photos of favorite people and happy times in the open as they can often boost your emotional state

— Stop comparing how you celebrate to how others celebrate or spend. Establish a holiday budget and, if needed, ask a friend or family member to help you stay true to your budget.

— The drive for perfection can drain a person’s energy. If a task or objective doesn’t require perfection, leave well-enough alone.

— Relax. Massages or long baths can be very soothing.

— Piggyback on your comforts. If you love horses, for example, visit the Air Force Academy’s equestrian center and go for a horseback ride.

— Watch movies or spend time with people who make you laugh. Some say laughter is the best medicine for the stressers in life.

— Spend time with pets. If you don’t have one, consider rescuing one from a shelter.

— Put down your cellphone or computer and connect with those around you

— Reach out to family and friends before the holiday stressors have a chance to develop. Make plans early so you are not caught by surprise over something unwanted.

— Count the days to your favorite holiday or to the day after the holiday ends by crossing off the days on the calendar. Celebrate to reward yourself for making it through the season, one day at time.

— Use your strengths against your struggles. If you’re are an artist, lean on those talents to engage your creative passions and focus on what brings you joy.

— If you know someone having a hard time during the holidays, offer your presence, call or text to check in periodically, invite them for coffee, and express your care in words and action.  Some of the greatest gifts we can give at the holidays are our time, care and concern. And that doesn’t cost a dime.

— If painful memories seem to affect your season, make an appointment with a trauma therapist

The holidays, while full of social interactions and encounters, are a personal experience. This season, gift yourself with the time and attention you need to ensure the most joy possible. You  deserve it.

(Laurie Wilson is the 10th Air Base Wing Mission Element public affairs representative)