Six Common Ways We Struggle During Holidays

Six Common Ways We Struggle During Holidays

Elvis once sang about feeling blue at Christmas time, and I’m here to tell you: It’s perfectly normal to feel that way.

There are many reasons why your days may not be merry and bright around the holiday season. Jam-packed social calendars, deadlines at work, loss of a loved one, sunless, dark winter days, financial pressures surrounding gift giving…sound familiar?

Still, you can prepare and hopefully deflect some of the increased stress of the season. It’s important to realize that you have more control than you think. Here are six common issues that come up this time of year, followed by ways to address them.

1. You’re Lacking the “Holiday Spirit”

Being surrounded by cheeriness can be difficult when you don’t feel the same level of enthusiasm as others. The pressure to be social, happy and present can make it hard to speak up if you feel otherwise.

  • Recognize that you don’t need to force yourself to be happy and that it’s good to acknowledge feelings that aren’t joyful; remember that you are not alone in feeling this way.
  • Trying to numb or avoid feelings by using alcohol or other substances just worsens anxiety and depression.
  • If possible, surround yourself with people who feel similarly; celebrate your traditions or create new ones.

2. You’re Overwhelmed by Grief and Loss

If you are living with grief, loss, trauma or loneliness, it can be easy to compare your situation to others’, and this can increase feelings of loneliness or sadness. Check in with yourself so that you’ll have realistic expectations for how the holiday season will be. Gently remind yourself that as circumstances change, traditions will change as well.

  • If holiday observances seem inauthentic right now, you do not need to force yourself to celebrate.
  • Perhaps connect with a support group, therapist, faith community or friends who understand.
  • Let your loved ones know how they can support you, whether it’s helping you with shopping or meeting up for a regular walk. Often, people want to help, but don’t know what to say or where to start.

3. You’re Feeling Pressured to Participate in Activities You’d Rather Not

We all have our own personal history with holidays. We have visions about the ways the holidays are “supposed” to be, which can be a distorted perspective.

  • Recognize that most people feel at least a little stressed during the season.
  • Prioritize the most important activities, or schedule get-togethers for after the holidays, and learn to say no if you need to.
  • Make a schedule of when you will do your shopping, baking and cleaning—and be sure to include time to take care of yourself.
  • Instead of spending the holidays the way you think you “should,” opt for an activity you actually feel like doing, whether it’s making a favorite dish or having a Netflix marathon.
  • Regardless of your plans, try to make your intentions known to friends and family early in the holiday season so everyone knows what to expect.

4. You’re Stressed About Giving Gifts

It’s so common to get caught up in the commercialization of the holidays. We can feel stressed about spending on a strained budget or trying to find just the right gift. Advertisers take advantage of our susceptibility and make us feel as if we need to buy more than we can. But giving to others is not about spending money. We need to remind ourselves that we are the ones creating that anxiety, and we can reduce it by setting realistic expectations.

  • Consider how much money you can comfortably spend and stick to the amount.
  • If purchasing gifts for everyone is difficult, consider having a secret Santa or white elephant exchange to reduce the number of items everyone needs to buy.
  • Simply let people know you are unable to give gifts this year.
  • Sometimes personal gifts—like a poem, short story or framed photo—are the best ones. How about the gift of helping a neighbor, a friend, a family member or a stranger? It’s the act of giving that is more important than a present. Our generosity can be a gift to ourselves, because when we focus on others and less on ourselves, we tend to reduce our anxiety.

5. There’s Not Much Sunlight, and It’s Affecting Your Mood

In the northern hemisphere, the holidays coincide with winter’s lack of available sunlight. Less exposure to natural light can lead to new or increased symptoms of depression.

  • Try to get as much sunlight as possible.
  • To boost your mood and regulate sleep, schedule outdoor exercise in the middle of the day when the sun is brightest. If you can, work near a window throughout the day. Even outfitting your home with warm, bright lighting can help improve your mood.
  • If you feel the need to slow your pace and stay home this time of year, consider reframing the winter months as an opportunity to work on “quieter” projects and activities suited for the indoors, such as writing, knitting or taking online courses.
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a more severe form of the winter blues. If you feel hopeless, have suicidal thoughts, or changes in appetite and sleep patterns, talk to your doctor. Effective treatments for SAD include light therapy, talk therapy and medication.

6. You’re Alone or Feeling Isolated

While it’s true that many of us have friends and family to connect with during the holiday season, we can still have feelings of isolation. If you have a predisposition to depression or anxiety, it can be hard to reach out to others.

  • Remind yourself of the people, places and things that make you happy. Consider scheduling a call or video chat with friends or loved ones on a weekly or biweekly basis so you don’t have to think twice about making the effort.
  • Take advantage of other ways to connect, including sending out holiday cards and communicating with family and friends by phone, text, email and social media.
  • Calming activities, such as reading, meditating and gratitude journaling, can be positive ways to spend time if you are alone or don’t feel comfortable in social situations.
  • Remember self-care! We hear about the importance of a balanced diet, moderate exercise and plenty of sleep, but because there are so many distractions and stressors this time of year, we lose sight of some of these basic necessities. We need to take care of ourselves in order to navigate the holiday season.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone, even though it may feel like it. If you have been feeling anxious or depressed for more than two weeks, or if the holidays are long gone and you are still feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, please take one of our free, confidential online screenings, or talk to your primary care or mental health care provider.

Stacy Waldron, PhD, LP

Psychologist, Bryan Counseling Center

Stacy Waldron, PhD, is a licensed psychologist at Bryan Counseling Center. She provides treatment for individuals of all ages and specializes in working with adolescents and adults.

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How to Be Your Own Best Advocate at a Doctor’s Appointment

How to Be Your Own Best Advocate at a Doctor’s Appointment

Have you ever gone to your doctor’s office and thought, “I have several questions I want to ask” and then gone home and realized you forgot to ask them? This happens to many people for multiple reasons. You may feel anxious during your appointment. You may feel uncomfortable asking a question. Or you may feel overwhelmed, answering so many questions about your health that you may simply forget the questions you wanted to ask. Whatever your reason is, here is what you can do to better self-advocate at your next appointment.

Prepare to Answer Basic Questions First

Knowing what to expect up front can help alleviate some anxieties. So, this is the basic process to expect during a doctor’s visit.

  1. In today’s world, you’ll start with COVID-19 questions, insurance information, emergency contacts and verifying your address.
  2. You’ll go to the scale. This part always makes me nervous because I don’t want to look.
  3. Your vitals are taken—blood pressure, temperature and pulse.
  4. You’ll review your medications and how you take them. It’s very important that you also share information on vitamins, natural supplements and any over-the-counter items you take. This helps your doctor make sure nothing interacts.

It’s a lot to go through, and all of this can occur before you get to the reason for your visit. While it may feel overwhelming now, there are steps you can take to be more confident and get the most out of your visit.

You & Your Doctor Are a Team

You both have a common goal—to take care of your health. To achieve that goal, you have to work together. This starts with being honest and sharing information with your healthcare provider. By being forthcoming, it helps them examine, diagnose and treat the problem. If you feel too uncomfortable sharing information, the doctor can’t do their job, let alone offer you optimal care.

Here’s what to do to avoid “losing your voice” when the white coat walks into the room:

  1. Prepare a list of questions before your visit. Write them down and bring that list with you to the doctor’s office. Having that list to reference will make sure you get all of your questions answered.
  2. Bring a friend or family member with you if you know you’re going to be overwhelmed. They can help you listen and ask the questions. Having a support person with you can be very comforting during a doctor’s visit.
  3. Be patient while the receptionist and nurse ask you questions. Your answers will be passed along to the doctor. This information also helps correctly pay for your bill so you don’t have to worry about it later.
  4. Write down the information you receive during the appointment. You can bring a notepad or use the notes app on your phone. Taking notes will help you remember everything that was said during the visit, including instructions for a treatment plan.
  5. Call back or send a message through your patient portal if you have questions after your visit. We want you to follow your care plan, so we’re happy to clear up any confusion. You can only follow our recommendations if you fully understand what we suggested.

These tips will help to make you feel empowered the next time you step into a doctor’s office. After all, you are your best advocate! If you or someone you know could benefit from a professional consultation, take our free, confidential mental health screening online from the comfort of your home today.

Stacy Waldron, PhD

Stacy Waldron, PhD

Licensed Psychologist, Bryan Medical Center Counseling Center

Dr. Stacy Waldron provides treatment for individuals of all ages across the lifespan and specializes with adolescents and adults. She offers individual and family therapy to help clients with stress, anxiety, mood disorders, life transitions and chronic pain. This includes helping individuals with stress management, assertiveness training, communication and problem solving skills as well as relaxation training. She also provides psychological assessments that include bariatric surgery evaluations, spine surgery, and spinal cord stimulator evaluations.

Waldron earned her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She serves on the Board of Psychology for the State of Nebraska, the Board of Directors for the Midwest Pain Society, and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

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Mindful Eating vs. Emotional Eating: 6 Steps for Success

Mindful Eating vs. Emotional Eating: 6 Steps for Success

What is emotional eating? Emotional eating is generally when we eat as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. When we work to reduce emotional eating, it is important to be aware of behaviors we can change to allow our food to be more useful to our bodies and to gain emotional control over food.

Here are six pointers that I have found effective in my practice as a clinical psychologist at Bryan Counseling Center.

1. Slow Down so Your Body and Brain can Communicate

Eating more slowly is one of the best ways you can get your mind and body to communicate what is really needed for nutrition. The amount of time it takes your brain to register that your stomach is full is about 20 minutes. This is why we often unconsciously overeat. Eating more slowly allows enough time to receive the signal from your brain that you are full. This in turn helps us eat the right amount of food. Simple ways to slow down might include many of your grandmother’s manners like sitting down to eat, chewing each bite 25 times (or more) and setting down your fork between bites.

2. Know Your Body’s Personal Hunger Signals

Are you responding to an emotional want or responding to your body’s needs? Often we listen first to our minds, but like many mindfulness practices, we might discover more wisdom by tuning into our bodies first. Rather than just eating when we get emotional signals, which may be different for each of us – stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness, boredom – try to listen to your body. Is your stomach growling, your energy low or are you feeling lightheaded? Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger. Ask yourself: What are your body’s hunger signals, and what are your emotional hunger triggers?

3. Cultivate a Mindful Kitchen

Do you eat alone and randomly or do you eat with others or at set times? Another way that we eat mindlessly is by wandering around looking through cabinets and eating at random times and places rather than thinking proactively about our meals and snacks. This prevents us from developing healthy environmental cues about what and how much to eat, and wires our brains with new cues for eating that are not always ideal. (For example, do you really want to create a habit of eating every time you get in the car?)

Sure, we all snack from time to time, but eating at consistent times and places can boost both your mind and body’s health, not to mention greatly helping your mood and sleep schedule. Yes, that means sitting down (at a table!), putting food on a plate or bowl, not eating it out of the container and using actual utensils. It also helps to eat with others if that is possible – not only are you sharing and getting some healthy connection, but you will also slow down and enjoy the food and conversation more.

Having a mindful kitchen means organizing and caring for your kitchen space so it encourages healthy eating and nourishing gatherings. Consider what you bring into your kitchen and where you put things away. Are healthy foods handy? What kinds of foods are in sight? When food is around, we eat it.

You don’t have to plan your food down to each bite, and it’s important to be flexible, especially on special occasions, but just be aware of the fact that you might be changing your eating habits at different times of the year or for different occasions. And when you do plan ahead, you are more likely to eat the amount your body needs at that moment rather than undereating and indulging later, or overeating and regretting it later.

4. Understand Your Motivations

Eating foods that are emotionally comforting vs. eating foods that are nutritionally healthy is a tricky balance. Ideally, we can find nourishing foods that are also satisfying and comforting. When we slow down and think about the healthy foods in our mouths we often enjoy them more than the story we want to tell ourselves about healthy food.

As we practice eating healthier and a greater variety of foods, we are less inclined to binge on our comfort foods, and more inclined to actually enjoy healthy foods. Ultimately we can find many foods mentally and physically satisfying as opposed to just a few.

5. Connect More Deeply with Your Food

Outside of hunter-gatherers or sustenance farmers, most of us have become disconnected from our food in recent years. Many of us don’t even consider where a meal comes from beyond the supermarket packaging. This is a loss because eating offers an incredible opportunity to connect us more deeply to the natural world, the elements and to each other.

When you pause to consider all of the people involved in the meal on your plate: from the loved ones (and yourself) who prepared it, to those who stocked the shelves, to those who planted and harvested the raw ingredients, to those who supported them, it is hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected. Be mindful of the water, soil and other elements that were part of its creation as you sit down to eat whatever you are eating. You can reflect on the cultural traditions that brought you this food and the recipes generously shared by friends or brought from a distant place and time to be handed down in the family.

As you consider everything that went into the meal, it becomes effortless to experience and express gratitude to all of the people who gave their time and effort, the elements of the universe that contributed their share, our friends or ancestors who shared recipes, and even the beings who may have given their lives to a part of creating this meal. With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health in our food, not just for us but for the whole planet.

6. Attend to your Plate

Multitasking and eating is a recipe for not being able to listen deeply to our body’s needs and wants. We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with our bag full of popcorn, and before the coming attractions are over, we are asking who ate all of our popcorn. When we are distracted, it becomes harder to listen to our body’s signals about food and other needs. With your next meal, try single-tasking and just eating, with no screens or distractions besides enjoying the company you are sharing a meal and conversation with, even if it’s just your own.

While formal mindful eating practices may be what we think of when we look back on a mindfulness course or retreat we attended, the reality is that we do live – and eat – in the real world, which is a busy place. But we can take the insights gained from our formal practice – slowing down, listening to our bodies, doing one thing at a time, making even small rituals, and considering all that went into our meal on a more regular basis – and bring more informal mindfulness to our daily meals.

Finally, remind yourself each day that food is fuel for your body, not for comfort. By using mindful eating practices, you just may find the food you eat more enjoyable and nutritious.

Stacy Waldron, PhD

Stacy Waldron, PhD

Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Bryan Counseling Center

Dr. Stacy Waldron provides treatment for individuals of all ages across the lifespan and specializes with adolescents and adults. She offers individual and family therapy to help clients with stress , anxiety, mood disorders, life transitions and chronic pain. This includes helping individuals with stress management, assertiveness training, communication and problem solving skills as well as relaxation training.

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Put a Stop to Stress Eating

Put a Stop to Stress Eating

With fall just around the corner, there are so many changes happening—the weather getting cooler, school starting, and everyone seems to have a fall project or two to complete before the holidays. Read More

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