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Caring for Your Mental Health This Holiday Season

Caring for Your Mental Health This Holiday Season

Al Waller: Let’s face it. While the holiday season is a time for family get togethers and celebrations, it’s also a time of stress. If the holidays sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of control, you’re not alone.

According to the results of the 2021 Verywell Mind Mental Health Tracker, 75% of Americans have some concerns around the holiday season—from affording holiday season expenses to managing their mental health.

Unchecked stress can lead to mental illness and unhealthy coping habits—but the good news is that there are healthy ways to cope and reduce your stress.

Welcome to Clearpath – Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. Today, Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute® is joining me, to discuss the importance of caring for our mental health during the holidays, signs to look out for that our mental health may be suffering, and she’ll also provide some tips to incorporate into our daily life.

But before we get started, I’d like to remind you that if you have any topic ideas for podcast episodes that you’d like to hear about, please reach out to us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!

Well, Mihaela, it’s nice to have you back.

Mihaela Vincze: It’s good to be back.

Al Waller: I think it’s pretty safe to say that stress can put a serious damper on your holidays and adversely impact your health. Why don’t we begin by addressing what causes stress during the holidays?

Mihaela Vincze: There are lots of seasonal factors that can trigger stress around the holidays and lead to the “holiday blues”. Factors like less sunlight, changes in your routine, financial strains, alcohol at parties, or the inability to be with certain friends or family – all of these things can impact our mental states.

Al Waller: I agree with all the above, and I'll also add that the ability to travel home for the holidays or maybe enduring a breakup of a relationship around this time can really deliver some serious seasonal depression.

Perhaps you could share some other signs of the holiday blues and what they might look like.

Mihaela Vincze: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, signs of the holiday blues include feelings of frustration and loneliness, or isolation, sadness, tension, fatigue, and a sense of loss. The way these feelings differ from generalized anxiety and depression, is that they are temporary. With this being said, it’s still important to get help since short-term mental health problems can lead to long-term mental health conditions.

Al Waller: Agreed. It's absolutely critical for all of us to take care of our mental health because left unchecked, things can really spiral out of control and fast, leading to some long-term struggles.

Mihaela Vincze: That’s right. Remember, mental health issues can lead to worsening conditions when left untreated so it’s very important to get help.

Al Waller: Then what sort of recommendations would you offer in terms of safeguarding one's mental health?

Mihaela Vincze: There are a few ways to safeguard your mental health this holiday season:

Manage stress with healthy outlets. Healthy coping mechanisms are very important for dealing with life’s stressors. Many people find that meditation or prayer gives them the ability to refocus on the important things in life and self-reflect. However, many others find themselves with coping mechanisms that aren’t the heathiest and that offer short-term gratification despite the damaging long-term effects.

This is important because it can lead to a destructive loop—for instance, if you find yourself shopping to deal with stress, you can find yourself dealing with some financial strain. However, if you are using shopping as your coping mechanism, you will continue to shop when you feel the stress of the financial situation – just because you want to feel better. This is why it’s so important to be mindful and think of healthy ways to deal with stress.

Al Waller: Good point, especially with the holidays often including so much shopping and gift giving.

What are some other healthy tips we could apply to care for our mental health?

Mihaela Vincze: Exercise. Believe it or not, you don't have to do a lot of exercise to reap the mental health benefits. According to Mayo Clinic, short amounts of physical activity (as little as 30 minutes a day and not even consecutively – it can be broken up…10 minutes in the morning, 10 in the afternoon, 10 in the evening) may make a huge difference to your mental health. And if you want to do even less than 30 minutes, amp up the intensity of your workout – smaller amounts of exercise can lead to the same mental health benefits as doing the full 30 minutes of lower intensity.

Al Waller: Well, with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I can see how exercising might just fall by the wayside, but then again, by remembering that it can help ease the stress provides another incentive to prioritize some physical activity during the day.

What else can we do to support our mind and body this holiday season?

Mihaela Vincze: Get enough sleep. Sleep is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. High quality sleep is crucial to our mental health. Lack of sleep can alter your mood significantly. It causes irritability and anger and may lessen your ability to cope with stress, according to WebMD. Some tips to getting a good night sleep include avoiding big meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime and staying off electronics, according to the CDC.

Al Waller: Focusing on our health and a good night’s sleep is such an important reminder around the holidays. When you think about it – year-round too. Self-preservation is not overrated.

As the year comes to a close, some of our healthy habits may begin to dwindle – not unlike our funds – as we're tempted to go overboard celebrating those we love. How can we ensure that our generous spending Instincts don't jam us up and add further stress to the holidays?

Mihaela Vincze: Create a holiday budget. Create a plan, and list everyone you plan to give gifts to—from your nearest and dearest to your acquaintances. Next, put a dollar figure next to each name. Setting price limits helps keep your holiday budget on track.

However, also keep in mind that hand-made gifts can be just as powerful as those you purchase. To give an example, this year I made one of my friends a poster on a free graphic design platform and printed it out. I feel like I created a pretty thoughtful gift, without spending too much. There are lots of gifts you can come up with if you just give it some thought.

Al Waller: That's a great idea, Mihaela. Utilizing your creative talents not only saves you at the register but also provides a more personal and meaningful expression of giving in general.

Really, isn't that what the season is all about? I mean, think about it. It's so easy to get caught up in shopping for gifts and going overboard spending more than expected, which at the end of the day provides more unwanted and unneeded stress and takes the essence of the joy out of the gift giving.

What other methods would you recommend to support ourselves during this time?

Mihaela Vincze: Find support in others. Academic research published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews found that loneliness may increase the likelihood of inflammation in the body, which is associated with poor health.

So, how do we find support in others? A great tactic for this would be practicing time management skills to help you carve out time to check in regularly with your friends, something that will help strengthen your bond with them. This is also really important for our mental health because it can lead to supportive relationships that are mutually beneficial and it makes it easier for us to reach out when we do need support. Having rapport with our support system is also important because you don’t want to give off the impression that you only reach out when you need support.

Al Waller: I don't think you can overstate the value of enlisting the support of others and on the flip side – providing the support to others. At the end of the day, this can go a long way in laying the foundation for healthy relationships throughout the year and beyond.

Where can listeners go to learn more?

Mihaela Vincze: You can find amazing resources to help protect your mental health at the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI blog. I also encourage you to consider attending a free support group provided by your local NAMI affiliate, which you can find on their website.

Lastly, check out Transamerica Institute’s mental health guide at Transamericainstitute.org/mentalhealth.

Al Waller: If you’d like to check out any of the source materials mentioned today, visit transamericainstitute.org/podcast to review the episode’s transcript.

If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button so that you don’t miss an episode of ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth.

And in case you missed them, be sure to check out our previous episodes on Saving Money This Holiday Season and Supporting Mental Health in the Workplace. In addition, we will be discussing financial conversations, and healthy habits for 2023.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about health and wellness, employment, financial literacy, longevity, and retirement.

You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org/podcast.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.