With Christmas just days a way and the sun setting much earlier, the owner of Saline Psychological Services is offering tips to help with the end of the year and make next year easier around the holidays.
"(During the holidays) in general people feel overwhelmed and stressed," Rebecca Schlau, a clinical psychologist, said, adding for some people that stress can be good because it is part of their happiness and excitement.
Schlau said many people experience the "holiday blues" but may feel it is only them. She explained for people there can be a range of reasons for those feelings.
The first step, according to to Schlau, is figuring out what is causing the problems, be it stress or other issues.
With the temperatures turning colder and the sun setting earlier, she said many people don't get much sun or activity which can affect their brain chemistry causing to feel down. Schlau said seasonal affective disorder is a real thing. She sees it in her patients usually starting around Christmas and lasting until spring.
Loneliness is a problem that is often brought to the fore during the holidays because it is a time when families and friends get together.
"You are more aware if you are lonely," she said.
She added that loneliness can be people who have no one, but it can also be those who are surrounded with family and friends and still feel lonely. Counseling can also help.
For those who are lonely, Schlau suggests planning activities that can help fill that void. She said to get creative with how to get involved, such as volunteering or taking part in community events. She added animal shelters are great volunteer opportunities for the lonely.
If the loneliness is due to distance, she said phone calls and Face Time calls can help.
If the person who is lonely does have people close and they still feel lonely, Schlau said a support group can help.
For the remainder of this holiday season and holiday seasons in the future, Schlau said those who deal with stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues should make a plan to help them cope.
She said those who feel overwhelmed especially need a plan. She also said they need to create boundaries and learn to say no in a tactful way so they don't have more piled on. She understands that people feel pressured to do everything and it can be hard to say no to things. She suggest brainstorming how to say no in advance.
She suggested in the future to prioritize what is most important during the season. She said it is ok not to make everything from scratch or attend every single holiday event. She said look at what is most important and devote energy to those things. If there is time or energy left over, then do what she calls the "bonus" things.
If hosting, make it a potluck or go to a restaurant.
"Invest time in what makes you the happiest," she said.
Another way to reduce stress, Schlau said, is to create a budget for not only gifts but food expenses as well. She added its ok to say no to gift exchanges and to re-gift.
From loneliness to stress to other mental issues affected by the time of the year, Schlau said exercise can help. Exercise increases the production of serotonin, which helps people feel happier.
Another way Schlau said to limit stress if for people not to force themselves to be around people or take part in traditions they don't want to or cause them extra stress. She said people have the full right to say no.
If a person absolutely has to be around a person or do a thing that causes stress, she said make a plan to limit the time spent with or on it. She advocates for taking walks or locking oneself in the bathroom at family functions if that is what someone needs to do for their own mental health.
She suggests if a person is stuck talking to someone who causes them stress, she said deflect the conversation back to them.
"People like talking about themselves," she said.
Going into the new year, Schlau suggests finding someone to talk to be that a counselor, therapist, friend or even just the mirror. She said talking out loud triggers a different part of the brain that allows a person to process better. She added it sounds cliche but there really is science behind it.
Also, going into the new year to be realistic about goals. If a person must make a resolution, they should make it something that is actually doable so they don't stress themselves out even more if they don't succeed.
"My resolution this year is not to make a huge resolution," she said.
Schlau added throughout the season, people need to be kind and check on each other. If a person hasn't heard from a friend or knows they are going through something, she said they should reach out and make sure that friend is ok. This is especially true for those who have experienced a loss, not just the first year after but going forward.
She suggested everyone practice self-care, which she said is different for everyone. Some people need to take hot baths and others may have different ways they should relax. No matter how someone de-stresses, she said they should add it into their plan for the season.
"It is ok to do what is best for you and your family," Schlau said.