Emotional Well-Being Blog

Coping with Holiday Stress

By: Randi Platt, M.Ed.

Shopping, baking, cooking, visiting, feasting, attending parties, drinking alcohol, money woes, loneliness, expectations for connection and fulfillment. What do these words all have in common? They are descriptors of our daily lives during the holiday season.

These words and the following video give a great summary of what usually causes stress around the holidays. "Stress" is the body's reaction to being overstimulated for extended periods of time. While our bodies are designed to withstand short bursts of mobilization, days on end of late hours, overeating, worry or a feeling of isolation can produce symptoms of moodiness, fatigue, pain, headaches and more.

Luckily, this video also gives some great tips going through the holidays and minimizing wear and tear on our brains, our bodies and our emotions. As a psychologist, I would also like to add a couple of tips gained from talking to people about their stress for the 33 holiday seasons of my career:

1) Take breaks from group and chronic activities. Allowing time for your body to recuperate from chronic stimulation will help it respond to stress with more resilience.

2) Consider staying in a nearby hotel if possible instead of staying with your family. This will provide natural breaks for rest and to maintain perspective.

3) Hydrate well. This helps to keep your energy up, maximize a feeling of fullness that helps curb overeating, and counteracts the possibility of overindulging with alcohol.

4) Make aspirations BEFORE the holiday season as to what values are most important for you to live out during this time (for example generosity, connection, being even tempered, demonstrating love or thoughtfulness). Write down your aspirations where you can see them each morning, to remind you of what you are striving for.

5) Be realistic. None of us live the lives of people in T.V. shows or novels. Each of us have quirks and imperfections, and most days are highly imperfect! Expect some stress and imperfection each day to decrease your possible disappointment.

Randi Platt, M.Ed. is a Psychologist, the head of psychology services at the Rittenhouse Women's Wellness Center, the Executive Director of Hornstein, Platt and Associates Counseling Centers, and a teacher of meditation at Thomas Jefferson University who has enjoyed being a healer in Philadelphia for the last 33 years.

How to Achieve Happiness

By: Randi Platt, M.Ed.

With the science of Psychology turning towards everyday experience, research is helping us understand how to achieve happiness and emotional well being with greater consistency. Contrary to popular belief, it is not important to build self-esteem.  The surprising news is that it is important to learn to feel compassion for self and others.  Those who regularly spend even brief amounts of time feeling gratitude, sending good wishes to others or being a good friend to themselves report greater happiness, connectedness and health. 

Tis' the Season

By: Joanne Perilstein, Ph.D.

Many people  feel excited about the  coming  holiday season and begin planning, and remembering past celebrations and  good family times together.  The media  and ads often hype the coming season  both because it is a shared  experience in the mass market and also  because it is a productive way to  encourage  shopping to boost sales and business.  The  festive lights and special events are also  ways to increase excitement and celebration.  So what’s wrong with it all?

The thing that can go wrong is that  people  build up their  expectations and typically remember only the  positive aspects of previous family experiences.  Then when reality strikes and there is conflict  at the dinner table among family members, or rekindling of old  strains and resentments and jealousies, people become greatly disappointed and dispirited. 

What to do?  Manage your expectations.  Try to be realistic when  imagining your family visits.  Keep in mind that it is very difficult for us mere mortals to live up to Norman Rockwell paintings.  Realize that family members  have flaws  and  try to concentrate on giving rather than getting.  Contemplating  what you are grateful for and trying to create meaningful experiences with loved ones  can counteract  some of the inevitable  disappointments that might occur.  Then if things go well, it will serve as an added benefit to the gratefulness and meaningfulness you are working on constructing. 

Here’s hoping you have an enjoyable  and meaningful holiday season!  

Spring Fever

We are approaching that time of year when many of us experience spring fever….a time when we feel energized and want to do many things from outdoor activities to spring cleaning within the home. At the Rittenhouse Women’s Wellness Center, I work with two groups of people: those wanting to pursue weight management and those wanting psychotherapy. From the weight management point of view, spring is a time when many of us prefer to exercise through outdoor activities which can nicely complement a healthy diet in pursuit of weight loss. Physical exercise is very helpful in maintaining a positive mood and outlook on life, so much so that the American Psychiatric Association is now recommending exercise as a strong treatment for the reduction of depression. An increase in social activities, which also may occur in the spring, is also useful in combating depression, or simply emerging from the winter blues! However, individuals who suffer from depression or bipolar illness are best advised to avoid excessive activity which might interfere with regular sleep patterns. Both individuals troubled by depression or bipolar illness are best served when they respect their need for regular sleep patterns. So the solution is simple: enjoy the springtime and the expanded activities that it often offers. If you want to begin an exercise program, this is the right time to start. Just remember to pursue your activities in moderation to avoid physical or emotional strain.

Overcoming the Winter Blues

Ever notice that in the winter, perhaps between November and March, you just feel sort of in the dumps? Maybe your motivation is lowered, you feel sad, things don’t seem as pleasurable as usual and your interest in work, socializing and entertainment seem to lose steam? Perhaps you also feel more moody, sad or irritable and even want to cry at times? If so, maybe you are having a bout of S.A.D… or Seasonal Affective Disorder. It isn’t totally clear what causes this, but there are several ways to treat it.

First of all, realizing your own vulnerability towards depression at this time of year is a good first step to solving the problem.

Some interventions that may help include the following:

Buy a full spectrum light. These can be found online (Northern Lights is a great brand). Try to use it in the morning before dawn. This can help extend the daylight so that your spirits lift.

Increase exercise. Often the cold weather discourages us from exercising. However, if we actively combat this tendency by self consciously increasing our exercise, we might find that the depression lifts.

Psychotherapy. If the depression really begins to interfere with work or socializing, psychotherapy can be helpful.

Medication. In some instances using anti depressants in combination with  some of the other interventions listed will also be helpful, especially if initiated at the beginning of the winter in November.

Nutrition. There is evidence that proves that good nutrition can also improve your mood.

In any event, don’t despair too much because inevitably winter ends and spring will emerge once again!

For more information on our psychologist, click here.

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