Managing mental health this holiday season

Dr. Dawn Gonsalves

Historically, individuals in Yates County have reported high rates of mental health challenges. A 2017 report showed 20.5% of Medicare beneficiaries in the county sought help for depression, compared to the state’s average of 16.8%.

For many Americans this year, the holiday season is filled with emotional discomfort. In fact, 88% feel stressed when celebrating the holidays, and the average couple will have experienced more arguments throughout the season, according to a 2018 study. As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, many people are reimagining their holiday traditions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. However, many are now experiencing a different type of stress, replacing the hustle and bustle of having too much to do with uncertainty, isolation, and the loss of routine and tradition.

As a mental health professional, I offer people in Yates County and across the state four tips for coping with stress, feelings of depression, and anxiety this holiday season:

1. Get lots of sleep: Anxiety and stress can keep our minds racing throughout the night. Before going to bed, set a time to turn off all electronics and allow yourself to unwind prior to falling asleep.

2. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake: Caffeine can cause restlessness at night or jitters during the day, and alcohol tends to heighten emotions. Ditch these beverages and replace them with water. Those who are stressed tend to sweat more, and those who are sad tend to cry. Both these responses can lower your hydration levels, and your body will need more water to replenish your system.

3. Do things that bring you joy: Step outside, exercise, spend time with those in your immediate household, listen to music, or watch a light-hearted TV show or a movie. Often the best way to combat stress and sadness is by occupying your mind with other activities.

4. Video chat or call your loved ones during the holiday season: While this will not replace in-person visits, it will offer comfort and an opportunity to hear from those closest to you.

During times of uncertainty, it’s important to find time for self-care. Be sure to prioritize your physical and mental health.

If you need more support or if you are having thoughts of hurting yourself, reach out to your primary care provider, mental health professional, the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK) or NY Project Hope’s Emotional Support Helpline (1-844-863-9314).

Additionally, if you are an MVP Health Care member, you can get a same-day appointment with a health professional through telemedicine.

Dr. Dawn Gonsalves is the behavioral health medical director with MVP Health Care.