Holiday stress (and this year’s coexisting condition)

December 8th, 2017

Dec. 7, 2017 — Holiday stress is compounded this year by current events and contentiousness, “the biggest one being the complete fragmentation of our leadership in this country,” says Alan Podawiltz, DO, chairman of Psychiatry at JPS Health Network and the University of North Texas Health Science Center. That’s not a political statement, he says. That’s what patients are citing as a significant source of stress and anxiety.

Alan Podawiltz, DO, chairman of Psychiatry

When there’s no way to anticipate what jaw-dropping development might be in the headlines next, “it’s a little scary,” Podawiltz says. “How do you plan for the future” when the present is filled with such uncertainty? Regardless of individual political persuasion, “it makes people angry and irritable. Patients talk about it, especially patients with depression or anxiety.”

Joyful as it can be, the holiday season comes with disruptions in day-to-day routines, high expectations and longer to-do lists. It’s a sentimental time. Even happy memories of holidays past can remind us of loved ones no longer with us. Children’s wish lists pull at our heartstrings, especially when the budget is tight.

Experts recommend getting enough sleep and exercise, taking time for relaxing activities, setting realistic expectations and sticking to a budget. It’s important to be aware of the ways in which stress affects you, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For most people experiencing “holiday blues” it’s temporary, but “short-term problems must still be taken seriously because they can lead to long-term mental health conditions,” such as depression and anxiety.

Podawiltz has a special prescription for this year’s coexisting condition (tumultuous times.)

“What we all need to do is focus on today — just today,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do today to make my world a better place?’ A lot of the things people are worrying about are things they have no ability to control. Focus on the things you can do something about today.”

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