December is National Stress-Free Family Holiday Month. Don’t Laugh. It really is…
OK, yes, I get it. It’s the holidays. In a pandemic. COVID-19 spread is skyrocketing. Finances are a struggle and it’s the holidays. Depression can peak this time of year. Everybody needs something and to go somewhere. And don’t forget Personal Protective Equipment. Did I mention it’s the holidays? Stress-free family holiday month? You gotta be kidding me.
We’ve talked about stress before, and the pathology that contributes to it. And how stress contributes to the wearing down of brain structures like synapses that can cause more serious disorders. Like depression, bipolar depression, PTSD, social anxiety, to name a few.
When do you need to be stress-free more than now??
Add to the holidays the risk of seasonal affective disorder, which for some people creates the symptoms of debilitating depression as the days become shorter, the skies are gray more often, and less light gets through.
When you feel bad, your stress increases. And when your stress increases, you feel crummy.
So how on earth do you make December a stress-free family holiday month? Especially now?
One approach might be to consider that even though the pandemic may create stress, the pandemic can also give us the freedom to reduce our own stress.
Case in point:
You can shop less. Agree with your family and friends that giving no gifts or else giving small token gifts is easier to manage this year. You can reduce your shopping and wrapping by say…80%? And use the time that’s left to do things you enjoy at home. And avoid exposure to others.
Perhaps spend more quiet and quality time with your spouse and family. Playing cards and board games, or just talking and laughing together.
You can bake together if you enjoy it.
But you can definitely reduce the stress that goes with hustle and bustle. You can make reasonable decisions to just pass up the hassles this year and give gifts next year.
Stressors Abound But Stress Doesn’t Have To
While it’s true that US COVID-19 cases in the month of November — 4 million — actually doubled the number of cases in October, your risk of infection is pretty low if you stay quarantined and isolated a while longer.
Daily deaths from COVID-19 in the US are back up to the numbers back in April. On April 15, 2752 people died in a single day, the largest number of the pandemic…until this past Wednesday, when 2300 people died.
COVID-19 is a serious risk, but that’s why you need to make good decisions that protect yourself.
The more you stay inside, washing your hands, wearing a mask if anyone comes in, and finding ways to ENJOY yourself, the less risk you face of the COVID-19 virus spreading to you.
And if you don’t feel afraid, the stress ratchets down.
If you don’t feel overwhelmed with more to do than you can every complete…well the stress ratchets down more.
If you don’t have to prepare to host a houseful of company for 10 days…you got it: the stress ratchets down even more.
Because one of the things that cause stress is fear. Another thing that causes it is exhaustion — mental and physical exhaustion.
And illness causes it, too.
Winter 2020 presents us with new options.
We can continue riding the treadmill in the midst of the storm…or we can just take a breath, and decide to make changes that help us — and our loved ones — enjoy improvements in life and relationships. And less risk of contracting the most contagious and potentially threatening virus we’ve seen in 100 years.
It won’t always be like this, will it? This is temporary. It may last a year or two. But it is NOT permanent.
So let’s take care of ourselves and each other.
In doing that, we can make this a stress-free family holiday month.
Think back over the last 5-10 years before we’d ever heard of COVID-19. During the hustle, bustle, and intense stress of December, can you remember thinking that somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of what all this is about? That society — you and me — has gotten so caught up in the obligations at this time of year that we’ve forgotten how to enjoy ourselves and each other. To seize moments?
Holiday parties every weekend, office party, parties for the kids, shopping for a list of people a mile long, wrapping gifts, preparing meals and baking cookies for cookie exchanges, cleaning the house to prepare for company…and the list goes on.
That feeling of “stop the world…I wanna get off…” Sound at all familiar? Consider that this is your year for a reboot. Set new expectations, reduce expenses, invest less of yourself in “impressing” and more in “supporting” and “loving”…
Meanwhile, if you suffer from severe symptoms of depression, bipolar depression, alcohol use disorder, substance use disorder, PTSD, social anxiety…maybe even anorexia…. then the stressors of the Winter 2020 season can only aggravate the symptoms.
Some people whose symptoms were managed by oral antidepressants before COVID-19 and all the circumstances of this season, find the oral medications are no longer effective. In spite of medication adjustments and dosage changes.
And some of these people are finding they want to reach out for ketamine treatment because nothing else is working anymore.
Yes, there is still some people who are not helped by ketamine and we don’t understand why. But research continues to clarify the dose, response, and safety of ketamine treatment.
At Innovative Psychiatry, we, too, are re-evaluating to find less stressful and safer means of helping you get better. We’re so gratified when we see patients who’ve suffered for years from treatment-resistant symptoms walk out of our offices with joy, relief, and hope following a series of ketamine infusions.
It’s enough that there are as many stressors as there are these days, but our hope for you is a stress-free family holiday month in December 2020. This is a unique holiday season like we’ve never seen before…and one we’re unlikely to see again in our lifetime.
It’s possible to make some strategic executive decisions to reduce the stress as well as exposure to others for yourself and your family…while using this time to rediscover meaningful experiences within your household.
We’re here and ready when you are, and wishing a happy holiday month for you.
To the restoration of your best self,
Lori Calabrese, M.D.