Filed Under:  Health & Wellness

Remembering that stress is not the reason for the season

17th December 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Kelly Parker
Contributing Writer

Is Christmas no longer the season to be jolly? For many adults, stress and anxiety are the “gifts” that keep on giving during the holiday season. The time that traditionally brings good tidings and cheer often brings sadness, depression and dread for many. The Christmas Blues is apparently more than a myth, and local mental health professionals can attest to this.

“Holiday stress does indeed exist,” Ron McClain, JD, LCSW-President and CEO of Family Service of Greater New Orleans says “The expectations and demands of gift giving can be overwhelming; it’s such a commercialization of the holiday season; we’re bombarded with images on the news and all around us-of things that remind us of what we may not be able to do financially; that can make us feel inadequate and lead to depression.”

A recent CNBC poll reported that 45 percent of people surveyed stated they would rather skip Christmas. The main reason they stated was the fear of debt and additional stress they would find themselves in after Christmas. They rated their stress as high or extremely high in the survey.

Stress; especially during the holidays, can hurt your wallets in ways other than gift giving.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of health care is spent on stress-related disorders, including depression and anxiety, autoimmune and allergic disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, and body aches and pains.

T. Chalone Branden, MSW, LMSW- Mental Health Pro­fessional, adds, “Symptoms of the holiday blues may be irritability, lack of concentration, lack of sleep, appetite loss/gain, seclusion, sadness, and crying.”

“Along with the reminders of things such as death and /or divorce, holidays bring back memories of times in which they were really happy and shared things with family and friends; and if they can no longer do those things, that can bring on additional stress and can at times result in issues that need to be addressed by a professional.” McClain adds.

Despite the festive decorating and other images of Christmas, many individuals and families who lead somewhat stress-free lives find the holiday season a stressful, depressing time; a time which can present the perfect storm for those who already struggle with depression and anxiety.

McClain says that the local non-profit does see a significant increase in calls during the holidays; mainly from regular clients who require some type of clinical intervention, but also receives calls and inquiries from individuals who simply feel overwhelmed and just need suggestions as far as self care.

For individuals looking to take the first step in beating the holiday blues, McClain believes that recognition and acceptance is a good start.

“Acknowledgement is key,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “It’s perfectly normal to feel inadequate about not being able to do what family members or kids may want you to do- just be real about it. It’s ok to feel this way.” And because of the recent challenges regarding our economy, they are certainly not alone. There a more people in the same boat than you may think.”

“Reaching out into the community helps,” McClain says. Anyone can volunteer; seek company within the community or a religious organization. “And there are many city-sponsored events that are free.”

“Anyone can volunteer at a shelter or give gifts to kids who may not have any,” Brandon Haynes shared. “At my church (Fairview Baptist Church) instead of exchanging gifts, we are collecting gifts for youth at Covenant House.”

McClain stressed the importance of being realistic about finances during the holidays. “Stick to your budget,” he says. “Look to find gifts you can give that are from the heart. You cannot buy happiness.”

During this season and peace and good will toward others, McClain believes families should take the time to put aside family conflict. “This should be a time for healing; so put issues aside,” he says. “You should also take this time to perhaps reconnect with family and loved ones.”

“Be active (make sure you’re out of bed at a decent time every day) listen to music or dance, and be in the company of others who are positive or make you laugh,” T. Chalone Branden added. Also, write a list of happy moments that you’ve experienced—plan to do an enjoyable activity one to two times a week (either alone or with others) and try to think positive about the holidays.”

Within the African-American community, the myths and stigma that surround depression can create pain and confusion, and can keep people from getting proper treatment. Succumbing to depression and seeking professional counseling has been often viewed as a sign of weakness.

Most mental health professionals state that people suffering from depression can’t just “snap out of it.” Spiritual support can be an important part of healing, but the care of a qualified mental health professional is essential at times; and the earlier treatment begins, the more effective it can be, according to experts.

“We as (African Americans) have mainly sought counseling through the church and we don’t have a culture of seeking help from (mental health) professionals,” McClain said. “Some of this has dissipated as a result of Hurricane Katrina; when so many were traumatized; we in a way, got permission to seek mental health support, but still in our community, it’s not always viewed as a possible alternative. We need to reexamine that. Recognizing and being honest with feelings of vulnerability and sadness is actually a sign of strength and not the other way around,”

This article was originally published in the December 17, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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