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Dealing with Holiday Stress? FirstHealth Psychiatrist Shares Tips to Help

| Date Posted: 12/14/2022

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Stress is part of the holiday season, and financial or health issues can make it even worse. Psychiatrist Meredith Stanton, M.D., talked with Star 102.5 FM about how to better manage holiday-related stress to ensure that you get the most out of the season. Listen to the interview below or read on for a transcript of the interview. 

 

 

What causes stress around the holidays? Why might it be worse this time of year?

Dr. Stanton: Stress is the same whether it is the holidays or it is taking a test or even being in a car accident. Our bodies respond to it as stress. There really are key ingredients to stress. This is not my acronym but I love it - N.U.T.S. 

N stands for novelty, something that you have never experienced before. Last week with the power outage, something that was so new for a lot of people. U is unpredictable. Last week as an example again, we had no way of knowing this would occur ahead of time. T is a threat to ego or your competency as a person is called into question. Think of a situation where you don’t feel 100% confident you can master it. S is for a sense of control, where you feel like you have little or no control over a situation. This is very common for all of us. 

 

We want to manage stress and mitigate it so it’s not harmful, but are there ways stress can be helpful? 

Stanton: Absolutely. Stress can be viewed as something that we can learn from or an opportunity to grow. Sometimes, when we get stressed out, we have to do things to calm ourselves down and the more you practice that, the better you get at it. Sometimes it’s deep breathing. It is quite helpful. Slow breaths in and out. A lot of times when people are panicked they feel like they can’t control anything going on with their bodies. I tell them, ‘You can control one thing and that is your breath.’ One of my favorite techniques is actually counting, but backward. It takes a lot of mental effort to start at 100 and count backward by three. Relaxing yourself is also important. We can get tense because we are waiting on something bad to happen. We have to focus on relaxing each of our muscle groups, starting from our eyebrows to our toes. 

 

Resiliency. We have heard that word a lot in the last few days with the power outage. How do we relate that word to stress? 

Stanton: Stress is an opportunity to grow because we can’t change and we can’t move forward unless we are challenged. This is why it’s good for kids to experience trials and tribulations so they learn to be able to confront and be persistent. Building resiliency is learning self-forgiveness. It’s OK if we are not perfect. One of my favorites is acknowledging stressful situations and knowing it’s a process. These big pivotal times in our lives are what grow us and change us as a person. Sometimes we view negative events as all bad but I also tell people that these events form people into who they are. They can be so important to building our character. It’s OK if you fail or if you have a disappointment. That’s temporary. People kind of get in the mindset of something being all bad or something lasting forever. Resiliency where you can demonstrate that you can handle stress and acknowledge that it isn’t fun is good for the next time you have stress. 

 

When it comes to the biology of how stress impacts us, what are some of the facts? 

Stanton: Stress is when there is any change to our body or the environment. There are external stresses like being cold or hungry or internal stress of worrying. Our bodies don’t know the difference. It’s all that flight, fight or freeze thing that’s happening. Our ancient selves would be walking around and see a saber-toothed tiger, and our bodies would try to get ready to do something to enable our survival. People who could activate their stress response would normally live longer than their neighbors. I think it’s fascinating that we can think our way into stress because we are such amazing and imaginative creatures, but we can also think our way out of stress as well. It’s pretty cool. 

If stress is prolonged, you get that release of cortisol, which is our adaptive hormone. It isn’t always good, because sometimes it’s trying to get our body ready for an extended amount of stress. When we are stressed out, we are more likely to get a cold or have pain or aches, and it’s our body trying to accept the stress. 

 

If someone is dealing with stress and they feel like it’s beyond them to control it, what should they do? How do people contact FirstHealth to seek help?

Stanton: You can learn more about our Behavioral Services on our website, FirstHealth.org, and our office number is 910-715-3376. We do have video and in-person appointments for anyone in need. 

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