Holiday stress - it's not just in your head

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Greg Nieckula, D.O., Internal medicine physician with CHI Memorial Internal Medicine Associates – Signal Mountain

Does the thought of the approaching holiday season keep you up at night, with a mental to-do list a mile long? Holiday stress can come in many forms, and there’s not many of us who are immune to these common feelings. There are two main reasons most everyone experiences some type of holiday stress.

  1. We’re all busy people who lead busy lives. When you add in the planning, parties and extra work that come with the hustle and bustle of the season, that’s a recipe for feeling overworked and drained. We also put very unreasonable expectations on ourselves and on the people we love to create picture-perfect holidays and memories. Inevitably, we feel disappointed when reality doesn’t line up with what we imagined.
  2. For many people, the holiday season also brings back memories and unresolved issues – not to mention reminders of family members who are no longer with us. These feelings are actually more like the blues but contribute significantly to feeling down or stressed during what is supposed to be a joyous time.

The question is – how do you manage it? How do you cope? It seems simple but taking time to remember why you’re putting in the extra work and effort to make special memories is a good place to start. Think about and enjoy the good things in your life and focus on the ones you love. And I tell folks not to feel silly if you need to come in and talk about it. Stress is real. The holiday blues are real, and it’s not an inappropriate conversation to have with your physician if you are feeling overwhelmed.

During those conversations, we dig into why you’re feeling the way you do. Is it because of the two things mentioned above? Are you super busy and placing extremely high expectations on yourself and family during the holiday season? Are you missing someone? If so, we’ll talk further about ways to better manage stress and set more realistic expectations.

If it’s more than the exhaustion of too many things to do and not enough time to do it, it becomes a question of whether there’s underlying issues that should be addressed. If your symptoms look more like depression or if you have unresolved feelings and emotions about losing a loved one, we’ll talk through additional medical recommendations – like seeing a counselor and examining what role medication may play in helping you feel better.

Stress is something we all experience – especially during the holidays. It’s good to know you’re not alone. Changing your mindset, taking a deep breath when things get hectic and focusing on the good things and good people around you are sure to make a difference. And if and when it’s just too much, don’t be embarrassed to talk with your physician. We’re here to help.    

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Doctor Talk, CHI Memorial's blog, focuses on health and welness.