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Bay Area psychologist offers tips for dealing with holiday blues and stress

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Christmas carols and specials are often built on the holiday season as the happiest time of the year. There is no doubt that spending time with family and receiving gifts can bring a lot of happiness, but at the same time, many factors associated with the season can contribute to sadness and stress.

In a recent interview with The Reporter, Dr. Supria Gill – deputy regional director of mental health training programs for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California as well as a psychologist and head of behavioral medicine at Kaiser Hospital in Vacaville – said describes some of the contributing factors to vacation blues and stress and how to alleviate them.

According to the American Psychological Association, about 38% of people reported increased stress during the holidays, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that 64% of people with mental illness saw their condition worsen during holidays.

“With the past few years and what we have been through with the pandemic and socio-political stressors, I anticipate that this year people may be under even more pressure as they are able to connect with families that they don’t. may not have been. . “able over the past few years related to some of these stressors to have the perfect vacation,” Gill said.

Gill said there are a number of factors that contribute to increased stress. These include navigating family dynamics, running out of time during the holidays and finding the perfect gift, especially in the face of inflation and, for some, trying to spend on a shoestring budget.

“I think we often glorify doing everything, whether it’s at work or at home, and wear that as a badge of honor,” she said. “But what it can really lead to is resistance, fatigue, exhaustion and general exhaustion.”

Gill said those holiday blues can lead to fatigue, tension, sadness and short-term isolation. Stress can produce all of these symptoms, along with increased blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, headaches, feelings of guilt, and loss of interest in activities.

As for how to alleviate these stressors, Gill advises doing simple things like going for brisk walks or taking breaks from things that could cause stress, like social media or the news. For specific factors, such as family reunions, she suggests communicating expectations to loved ones ahead of time.

“Being in the middle of conflict is bad for our physical health and our mental health,” she said. “If we have grievances with a specific family member that we know we will be seeing over the holidays, trying to put them aside until there is a more appropriate time to discuss them later can be helpful. .”

There is also stress associated with not being able to attend a gathering or interact with all the family members you want this year.

“There are times when traditions may not come into play because the whole family can’t be together, and that may be due to illnesses or even travel expenses,” she said. “Finding other ways to celebrate together, like sharing photos (or) meeting on video, but being able to reframe those opportunities that we need to connect.”

To ease the stress of gifts, Gill advises setting a budget and sticking to it, doing something like a White Elephant or Secret Santa gift exchange to reduce the number of gifts to buy this season, and focus on attendance rather than gifts.

“One of the things that is easily overshadowed during the holidays is our relationships with loved ones, family and friends, and how that is more important than gifts,” she said.

For people stressed about going gift shopping while the COVID-19 pandemic is still active, Gill advises avoiding mall crowds and doing curbside pickups or online shopping when possible.

Gill also suggests maintaining a healthy diet by minimizing alcohol consumption and having a healthy snack before a big holiday meal.