The holidays can be stressful for many of us, especially with COVID-19 concerns and social distancing. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety or other behavioral health conditions, that can bring more challenges at this time of year.
But there are things to do to help prepare and manage, according to Dr. Kelly Askins, a behavioral health medical director and psychiatrist at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
Start with understanding depression and anxiety
Dr. Askins describes depression as being closely related to hopelessness, sadness and shutting down.
“When people are depressed, sadness and pessimistic behaviors can appear,” said Dr. Askins. Support and understanding from family and friends can help.”
Other symptoms of depression can include
- Loss of interest in things that normally bring satisfaction
- Appetite or weight changes
- Changes in sleep habits
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
“Some individuals can find it difficult to remember times when they weren’t depressed, thinking they won’t get better,” he said. “That’s what depression can do to the brain.”
“It’s about looking ahead and trying to make measurable expectations to be okay with things not being perfect.”
Those diagnosed with anxiety can feel emotions of worry and stress. Sometimes people create endless scenarios, worrying about what they said, did or will do, according to Dr. Askins.
“This makes it difficult to do anything, as even little things, can become a huge mountain,” Dr. Askins said. “It can help to talk through this ahead of time with your health care provider.”
Other common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restlessness
Tips for managing and protecting your mental health
For those with both a behavioral health and a long-term medical condition, Dr. Askins recommends keeping in touch with your health care provider.
Dr. Askins also offers these 6 tips for protecting your mental health.
1. Create realistic goals
Have measurable goals specific to you. Think about your history around the holidays and ask, “What can I do to get through that situation?”
2. Continue your normal routine
Sticking to your schedule of medications or doctor’s visits can helps to stay on track.
3. Limit alcohol drinks
Alcohol is a depressant. People who drink thinking it will pick them up could become more depressed.
4. Do things that that give you joy
Although it gets dark early, it’s also the time for holiday light displays. Take time for memory-making activities.
5. Continue your exercise regimen
Adjust your routine if needed based on weather, but keep it going.
6. Have an accountability partner
Find someone you can trust and talk to about your needs. Review your goals and progress with them daily or weekly.
“We’re all human” said Dr. Askins. “Under our current circumstances, it’s important not to beat yourself up or give up.”
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.