Tips for coping with the stresses of the holiday season

It’s considered the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” but in this case, one Christmas stocking doesn’t quite fit all.

Eating, drinking and spending money (too much) can lead to anxiety -- what is termed by experts as “seasonal depression” --and it likely will be enhanced this year with perhaps the first family or friends get-togethers in almost two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a real issue for patients and people in general,” said Dr. Mary Weatherford, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Coral Gables who serves the Key Biscayne area.

“All things considered, what they can do is start to talk to a mental health therapist or psychologist,” she added. “And now would be a good time to do it. It’s not like taking an aspirin and 30 minutes later you’re fine.”

According to surveys and medical studies by the National Institutes of Health in Maryland and the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Louisiana, between 14% and 64% of the population have been affected by the “winter blues” as a result of loneliness, grieving a personal loss or increased social expectations, just to name a few risk factors.

Combine any of those with hesitation or “lack of social practice” after being isolated from others for much of the past two years, and the cheers suddenly turn to fear.

Dr. Weatherford, who uses a psychotherapy neurofeedback process to “train the brain to be flexible and resilient to function optimally,” is backed by the Colorado-based Biofeedback Certification International Alliance, a rarity in Miami-Dade County.

Among her tips to stay healthy during the holidays:

- “A lot of people who are depressed hunch down,” she said, “so I tell them to sit up straight and consciously roll their shoulders back and hold their head up. First of all, it’s an outward presentation of feeling happier and also makes them feel better.”

- “If you’re going to be with friends and if you’re afraid, just do a Zoom holiday. It’s what we call BTN — better than nothing. If you’re afraid to go out, that fear can increase cortisone levels and reduce your immunity and you become more susceptible ... to everything!”

- “If you haven’t been vaccinated, even naysayers, should get their vaccines. You’re less likely to wind up in a hospital. Wearing a mask is a good idea, particularly at indoor gatherings.”

To reach Dr. Weatherford, click here.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Neda Gould, at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine in Baltimore, also shared four valuable coping tips at hopkinsmedicine.org:

- Accept imperfection. “Acknowledge that things may not go as planned. ... it might just take a little practice,” she wrote.

- Don’t lose sight of what really counts. “Where does it fit in the grand scheme? ... a long line at the grocery store is just that. ... Connect with someone with a compliment and an open mind.”

- Respond with kindness. “You can’t change how others act ... if it does get tense, take a few breaths ... that can shift things and give you a new perspective.”

- Rethink your resolutions. “Typical New Year’s resolutions set you up for failure. Start small ... and be kind to yourself. Let go of the negativity.”

When it comes to the elderly population, especially those on Key Biscayne, H. Francis Reaves, Esq., is especially tuned in to their holiday needs and demands.

As an elders columnist and president of Parent Your Parents, a senior healthcare consulting firm in Miami, Reaves said elders have wisdom and experience. But, when it comes to them enjoying the holidays, she also has some tips to offer:

- Be cautious of expectations. “If you haven’t seen your grandkids in awhile, do they want to see you? At age 10 to 12, they may be more interested in texting their friends. Kids change, even from 2 to 3. So be true to yourself.

- Stay home if you’d prefer. “If you don’t want to go all the way to New York, or even Milwaukee, for a family gathering, then don’t go.”

- Enjoy it all. “Enjoy eating, saying the prayers at Hanukkah, lighting a candle or putting ornaments on a Christmas tree. Let it be fun, and don’t let it be anything more. Remember, you’re a wise, experienced elder.”

Reaves also has a nice outlook for seniors this holiday season.

“A reward for being (that age) is that you'll be getting a nice 5.9% boost in your Social Security check in January, the biggest increase in 40 years,” she said.

So, it’s all good ... Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s ... it’s all fun.”

Words to live by — for everyone.

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