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Mental and behavioral health experts provide coping tips on social burnout during the holidays

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Posted at 5:00 PM, Dec 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-23 18:26:44-05

SHAWNEE, Kan. — The holidays can be a stressful time for many people as endless social and financial obligations overwhelm day-to-day commitments.

A 2014 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness showed 64 percent of people with mental illness report that holidays make their conditions worse.

“It’s very important for us to take a personal inventory and figure out what are my tolerances and what are my needs around the holiday times,” Dr. Abbey Gripka said.

Gripka, a psychologist with University Health, said open conversations about personal boundaries start with a clear understanding of priorities. Social pressures around the holidays can often hinder people from knowing what those are.

“For some people it might be this need to people please. A lot of times for other people, it may be a fear that I will be rejected or I will let people down," Gripka said. "Sometimes it’s because of the ‘should’s that we put on ourselves, or society puts on ourselves, that you should do this."

Because of this internal narrative, saying “no” to loved ones may cause a lot of discomfort, but Gripka said often times other people don't interpret it harshly.

“You are usually harder on yourself than other people. A lot of times you are going to be the one to remember this more than other people will remember it," Gripka said.

Gripka said the burdens of social responsibility during a pandemic can also cause additional discomfort this year, especially when dealing with family members with opposing views.

She said knowing the reasons for saying “no” can often help people feel more confident during difficult conversations.

“We need to remind ourselves that ‘I’m doing this for the health and safety of myself and my loved ones,’ more so than ‘I need the acceptance,'” Gripka said.

Experts warned that stress and overindulgence can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions as well. Cardiac death is almost 5% higher during the holidays, according to an American Heart Association research.

“We do need to be listening to our body, whether that’s by high blood pressure or high blood sugar or the fact that we’re not feeling well when we wake up in the morning,” Gripka said.

Greg Helsel, a licensed clinical counselor with AdventHealth, saw at least a 30% uptick of clients during the holidays.

He said having conversations about boundaries early on, in a safe setting, is key. That could mean a phone call, meeting face-to-face via Zoom, sitting down in-person in the comfort of your own home or even over text.

“Having those conversation either one-on-one, or two-on-one, or having them with critical people in your life, but then also being open to getting feedback from them,” Helsel said.

Even through the anxieties of the holidays, Helsel said the good news is people are stronger than they think. People can use successful tools or coping mechanisms from years past to navigate their current situations.

“If you’ve gone through tough times before, you can certainly do it again,” Helsel said.

Dr. Gripka also advised establishing an accountability buddy, as people can often be blind to their own limitations and bad habits. Having someone tell them they are neglecting self-care in a supportive way can help them take proactive measures to feel better.