Managing Holiday Stress
Health insurance expert Stephanie Cohen asks therapist Susan Richman for insight into how to keep sane amidst the festivities
With the start of the holidays just around the corner, we thought this would be a good time to consult our colleague, therapist Susan Richman, about ways we can stay cool, calm, and collected during this frenetic season. She offers her down-to-earth wisdom, which we think you'll appreciate as much as we do.
Stephanie Cohen: Why do you think the holiday season is stressful for many of us?
Susan Richman: People tend to try to do too much during the holidays. They over schedule themselves and end up exhausted from all the shopping and holiday events. Healthy habits, like exercise, proper nutrition and adequate sleep, may take a back seat to socializing and entertaining, leading to more stress and fatigue. Plus, financial demands increase at this time with the added expenses of gifts, travel and entertainment. Overspending can lead to financial worries that will last long after the holidays are over.
Stephanie Cohen: Overindulgence in eating, drinking and spending certainly leads to more stress. How about relationships with friends and family?
Susan Richman: Tensions among family members are often heightened during the holidays, intensifying misunderstandings and conflicts. Some people associate the holidays with unresolved family issues or a painful childhood.
On the other hand, facing the holidays without a loved one with whom you have shared the holidays can be tough, leaving you feeling lonely and sad.
Too much, or too little, togetherness with family and friends can be difficult for many.
Stephanie Cohen: Is that why the holidays can be so depressing for some people?
Susan Richman: Feelings of sadness, loneliness, and anger can intensify when contrasted with the joy expected of the holidays. Other factors that can contribute to holiday depression include having unrealistic expectations of family and friends; having an expectation that you "should" feel good; reflecting on losses or disappointments over the past year and coping with changes in family obligations, particularly after a recent marriage or divorce.
Also, those who indulge in excessive drinking to ward off negative feelings actually end up intensifying their depression.
Stephanie Cohen: What can we do to minimize holiday stress?
Susan Richman: Here are some tips:
- Set priorities
- Plan ahead
- Don't over schedule
- Simplify holiday commitments and routines
- Make time for relaxation
- Be realistic
- Set and stick to a budget
- Spend time with people you care about
- Maintain healthy habits
- Reflect on the spiritual significance of the holidays
- Ask for help if you need it
Stephanie Cohen: When should someone seek professional help for stress or depression?
Susan Richman: If negative feelings are interfering with daily functioning, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Persistent sadness, anxiety, irritability and feelings of hopelessness, as well as physical complaints and sleep disturbances, are signs that should not be ignored.
Stephanie Cohen: How would someone find the right person to help him or her?
Susan Richman: If you have health insurance that covers mental health, consult your plan for a list of providers in your area. You may also check with your primary care physician for a recommendation, or ask friends and family for suggestions. Ideally you want to find a counselor with whom you feel safe and comfortable.
Stephanie Cohen: What services do you offer at Bethesda Counseling Associates?
Susan Richman: The therapists at BCA offer individual and group counseling for adults and adolescents on a wide range of issues. We do not accept health insurance but in the interest of making mental health care available to a wide population, we offer our clients a very reasonable hourly rate, as well as a sliding scale for those in need.
Stephanie Cohen: What kind of groups do you run?
Susan Richman: We currently offer support groups for new moms and for women going through divorce and separation. These groups are ongoing and open to new members.
Stephanie Cohen: How can people get in touch with you and find out more?
Susan Richman: They may reach us by telephone 301 654 1583, or by email. More information can be found at our website.
About Susan Richman
Susan Richman is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor with an MS in Clinical Community Counseling from Johns Hopkins University. Most recently, she worked at the Montgomery County Commission for Women Counseling and Career Center in Rockville, MD, counseling adult women and men experiencing life and career transitions.
In that capacity, she worked extensively with people going through divorce or separation, as well as with victims of domestic abuse. She also provided supportive counseling to individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and anger management problems. Susan especially enjoys working with parents on a wide range of issues including new parenthood concerns, discipline techniques, and balancing home and career.
Susan also has worked with children and adolescents as a counselor in both private and public schools. She currently works at Grace Episcopal School in Kensington, MD as their part-time school counselor.