Monday, November 17, 2014

Creating a Plan for Coping with Holiday Stress

For a great many people, the falling leaves and cooler temperatures are a sure sign that the holidays are on the way.   This time of year can be marked by a great deal of stress and depression for a great many people, no matter holidays you celebrate.  Whether it’s because of the added pressures of entertaining, the financial prospect of gift-giving, or the missing of family members that are not around, these holiday months can carry a great deal of negative emotions for many of us.  Add to that the darkening skies and shorter days, and it’s no wonder that many people dread this time of year.  It’s important to remember, however, that we are not victims to this feeling and we do have control over how we feel this season.  Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you try to reduce your holiday stress and depression.

First off, it’s important to remember that many of the stressors that we experience around the holidays are self-induced.  There is a lot of pressure for many people to make this “the best holiday ever”.  It’s a message that is fed to us starting November 1st when all the television commercials tell us all the things we need to make the most of our holiday.  This often leads to feeling that we need to have the best gifts, the tastiest meals, the cleanest home, and the perfect holiday.  Not only does this cause a great deal financial stress, but striving to make something “perfect” can lead us to feel negative when we don’t meet our unrealistic expectations.  It’s important to appropriately prioritize your holiday goals and ensure they are goals that can be reasonable met.  Keep your holiday expectations realistic!  If you’re holiday goals are met, then you had just the holiday you wanted and if they go beyond your expectations then it’s a bonus!

The financial factors of the holiday season are often the most stressful for individuals and families.  Gift-giving has become our way of showing those around us how much we love and appreciate them.  Unfortunately for many of us, we simply don’t have enough to give all that we want.  When we push our finances beyond their limit, it causes a great deal of stress and fear for the future.  The best way to ensure that this doesn't happen this year is to set a firm and comfortable budget- and stick to it!  Find ways to reduce your budget by making thoughtful gifts for your friends and family.  Websites like Pinterest are full of ideas on how to create wonderful gifts from your home.  When in doubt, consider whether a gift is going to do more positives for the recipient than harm and stress to the giver.

This time of year is also the perfect time to practice and recall the stress management techniques that you've used in the past. No matter how busy we get around the holidays, it’s important to remember to take time out for our own mental health.  Meditating, doing yoga, or practicing guided imagery techniques are just a few ways that we can take a couple of minutes to press the reset button on our day and relax.  If those activities aren't your style of relaxing, then find one that works for you.  No matter what the activity, it’s important to spend at least 30 minutes a day taking time to relax and reboot.

Finally, one of the reasons that some people get depressed around the holidays has to do with the loved ones that are not around.  Whatever the reason that they are not with you, the most important thing to focus on is those loved ones who are present in your life.  Focus your time and energy on appreciating the positive times you have with the friends and family that you interact with this holiday season.  Try to frame your mind in positive thoughts, and let memories from previous holidays be a happy photo album and not a depressing slideshow.  If your depressed feelings become too strong or you’re not sure if you will be able to deal with them, then don’t hesitate to contact a professional counselor or someone else who can help you cope with your emotions.

We have the power to decide what kind of holiday season we want to have.  We can choose to be stressed, overwhelmed, and disappointed or we can choose to joyful, relaxed, and fulfilled.  This year, make the conscious decision to avoid the ghosts of holidays past and take control of mood. 

Happy Holidays!

William Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Creating Happiness to Decrease Distress

Historically, psychologists and other mental health practitioners have focused on illness and disorders. We have come to learn that it is vitally important to focus on happiness and satisfaction. Increasing happiness and satisfaction can make a substantial difference in enhancing well being and combating distress. There are a number of interventions that come from the field of positive psychology, a branch of psychology that emphasizes improving the quality of life in addition to treating illness, that have been shown to improve the quality of life and sense of well being. This article will focus on two interventions to increase happiness- expressing gratitude and savoring. Future blogs will address other techniques that increase happiness.

Research has shown that expressing gratitude increases well-being and decreases depression. Expressing gratitude is another way of saying count your blessings or take note of the things in your life that you can be thankful for. A simple way of expressing gratitude is to write down three things that you are grateful for daily. These things do not have to be big, extraordinary things..they can be everyday things that make your life better. Examples include having food to eat, having good friends, having the opportunity to get an education, having access to medical care, etc. Another way to express gratitude is to tell others who have helped you how they made a difference in your life by writing a letter or making a personal visit. A third way to express gratitude is to take a negative experience and find the good in it. In other words, you express gratitude for the opportunity to grow through some degree of misfortune.

Savoring, or luxuriating in an experience, is another path toward increasing happiness. It is a way of being in the moment and fully taking it in. Similar to the expression of gratitude, attention is focused on positive feelings and positive experiences. Savoring is accomplished by taking the opportunity to fully attend to the here and now.  To savor, you become mindful of everyday things that are taken for granted. Another way is to infuse or "take in" a spontaneous positive experience by giving it your full attention and allowing it to permeate your senses - taste, touch, sight, hearing smell. So the next time you are snuggling up with a good book, enjoying a warm beverage, taking delight in a comedy or enjoying good company, consciously savor the moment and notice how you feel.

In order to increase both savoring and gratitude, think about the fact that you have a only a little time left in the particular experience. Paradoxically, thinking about the limited time available to enjoy an experience actually can increase the enjoyment in the moment!

Submitted by Holly Houston, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist