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Holidays signify gifts, parties and stress

Holidays signify gifts, parties and stress

Mental health pros offer tips on how to stay calm
Holidays signify gifts, parties and stress
The holidays are a time of widespread joy but also, mental health experts warn, stress.
Photographer: Erica Miller

As shoppers dash to get their holiday shopping done, some are also dashing into the offices of mental health professionals throughout the Capital Region. 

Licensed mental health counselor Shannon Bernard-Adams at Union Counseling Behavioral Health Center in Schenectady said the Union Street practice sees an increase in clients this time of year. 

"It's common that we receive more referrals, because memories are brought up around the holidays," she said. "People realize it's OK to talk to someone." 

Bernard-Adams said the holidays can be a stressful time as many people are over indulging, over spending and over committing.

"People experience an increase of negative habits and additional holiday stressors such as ongoing family conflicts, grieving a lost loved one or past relationship, and missing family members who don't live near them," she said. "When the stressors become too much, it's important to seek counseling, so we can provide coping skills."

To reduce holiday stress, Bernard-Adams said she encourages maintaining healthy habits, including eating well, as well as getting enough sleep and physical activity. 

"It's important to encourage people to take time for themselves and go for a walk, read a book and enjoy time with family," she said. "It's important that people keep up with their regular schedule, so they're not feeling overwhelmed."

Life coach Dr. Terry Mooney, who operates a practice on Western Avenue in Guilderland, said there are stressful situations in everyone's life on a daily basis. However, the holidays add even more stress. 

"The gifts, cooking and parties can all be very stressful," he said. 

 Mooney added that the holiday season often results in unrealistic expectations. 

"People have these Hallmark expectations of what the holidays should be," he said. "The holidays are an opportunity to gather, be with each other and be present in each other's lives, and that's the greatest gift of all." 

Mooney said to deal with stress during the holidays, which are often brought about by financial pressures and family conflicts, it's important to prioritize and take time for yourself.

"Take time to recharge your batteries by getting a good night's sleep and set your priorities, because you can't do everything," he said. "Also, controlling excessive alcohol abuse is a big deal and make sure you're getting regular exercise, because it'll diminish your stress and change your focus."

Like the Union Counseling Behavioral Health Center, Mooney said his practice also sees an influx in clients. 

"I'm booking out into February," he said. "I have 25 to 30 clinical employees who are booking out that far too, because people are stressed."

The number of patients at Saratoga Psychological Associates increases in the first half of the month, said licensed psychologist, Dr. Kevin Pertchik.

"There's a definite increase in the weeks leading up to the holiday," he said. "People get stressed out about preparing, but eventually calm down." 

Pertchik said the holidays can serve as an opportune time to teach children how to handle stress. 

"Set a calm example for your kids of how to deal with stress," he said. "Establish a routine with your children and get them moving by going for a walk." 

When stressors like family dynamics, finances and time pressures arise during the holidays, Pertchik said it's important to be practical. 

"Keep your expectations realistic, which sometimes means saying 'no' to one or all of the parties you've been invited to," he said. "Avoid overscheduling and realize that you can't please everyone and you can't be in too many places at once."

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