Tips for Surviving the Holidays

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I thought I’d do something a little different for my blog for the upcoming holiday season. Pinnacle Health’s clinical psychologist, Dr. Melissa Brown was kind enough to share her professional opinions regarding anxiety and coping strategies, especially in relation to what is often a very stressful time of year.

Out of Sync Woman (OSW): What is your background?

Dr. Brown (DrB): I am a licensed psychologist or a clinical psychologist. One area of specialty is Autism. I work with children and adults on the Autism Spectrum. In addition to this population I also work with individuals with ADHD, Anxiety, and Depression.

(OSW): How long have you have you been in this specialty?

(DrB): I have worked with this population since 2006.

(OSW): What is your busiest time period of the year?

(DrB): I am busy throughout the entire year. However, with school age populations I find the school year to be busier for the kids. However, adults tend to come in throughout the year. Also, transitional periods seem to be busy such as the holidays, end of the year, etc.

(OSW): What are the most common reasons people come to see you during this time?

(DrB): Schedules are the most common reasons people tend to see me during certain times.. When children are in school it allows me to provide support to the families while dealing with any school issues which arise. Social issues, academic issues, or even behavioral issues tend to be the most common topics.

(OSW): What coping mechanisms have you found effective for holiday stress and depression?

Some of the best coping skills for individuals with high levels of anxiety is planning for and developing an action plan to deal with the most difficult “worst” case scenarios. My patients and I have found it effective to role play various situations which have arisen in the past to create added stress to the chaos of family gatherings and the holidays. We also write down the various ideas which we come up with. Some of them have been: having an outlet in a chaotic house, taking breaks from the family (going outside, reading emails, making phone calls, having a friend check in with you, and having a time-frame of how long you would like to be at the event). Good self-care skills are also something which we discuss and are so vital to being healthy during the stressful time. This can include: exercise, eating well, getting good rest, and ensuring that there is time taken to engage in enjoyed activities.

(OSW): On average, how far in advance and how often should we practice these skills?

(DrB): I would recommend patients begin discussing and planning for these events at least a month prior. This will allow for time to develop an appropriate plan and practice some of the skills which we discuss. Additionally, it allows for time to add other coping skills to the toolbox one draws upon.

(OSW): Do you have any suggestions for discrete fidget objects that are helpful for anxiety?

(DrB): I sometimes recommend having an object in one’s pockets such as a worry stone, piece of string, or other tactile material which can produce some calm. At times, scents can induce calm and a relaxing mood so maybe wearing some essential oils or having them located on a piece of clothing one is wearing which can be smelled while interacting with others. Additionally, it can be placed on a cotton ball that can be in the pocket or purse. One can smell this while in a private location as well, such as the bathroom. At times, having an object in one’s hands is sometimes soothing and a discrete object could be a certain cup – at times warm mugs induce a sense of calm to some individuals and others may prefer an ice cold mug.

(OSW): When should we seek help and how do we find it?

(DrB): One should definitely seek help if one finds he/she is not sleeping well, having reoccurring thoughts which are interfering with everyday life, not eating well, and withdrawing from normally enjoyed activities.

(OSW): Any advice for parents or caregivers?

(DrB): Be patient. Talk with your loved ones and find out what his/her needs might be. Ask about what their triggers are or what warning signs are present when he/she needs a break. It is important to keep lines of communication open. Additionally, do not try and force things on family members by saying things like, “Just another minute, you will be fine”, “Suck it up, we are here to have fun”, “Get over the chaos, it is not a big deal”, etc. The holidays are quite stressful for the average person but an individual with an ASD or other anxiety disorder can find them to be even more stressful since it can aggravate some sensitive areas for a person such as sensory, social, or even physical. Not everyone has the same tolerance and allowing others to tell us what their needs are is important.

(OSW): Anything you would like to add?

(DrB): Try and trust what others are telling us is true. It is important that we are patient with someone who finds the holidays stressful. Many people have various reasons they are struggling with the holiday season and that is okay. We do not all have to have the same experiences in order to have a good time. What one might find as enjoyable, someone else might not. In addition, one might not be able to press forward with little sleep and not eating as well as it might affect them more intensely than someone else. So, just giving someone patience and love can go a long way this holiday season.

Out-of-Sync Woman

I was diagnosed at a young age and went through the special education system in public schools. Family is incredibly important to me as I grew up in a large supportive family. I enjoy being outside in nature and arts and crafts.

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