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'Take That Extra Step to Reach Out': How Holidays Compound Stress

Guy Sagi

Lake Effect's latest Fit For Youaddressed ways to cope with holiday stressors and how to balance that with our eating habits. However, common holiday stressors such as interpersonal relationships and unrealistic expectations in the midst of an abundance of food and drink is compounded for people who live in the already stressful environment of poverty.

Dr. Maria Perez, head of the behavioral health department at16th Street Community Health Centers, says that whether it’s social isolation, economic pressure, depression or other issues, understanding the source of stress and employing self-care goes a long way. 

"I think generally, regardless of socioeconomic status..., we live in a culture where there's a heavy emphasis on materialism," she notes.

The holidays can add an additional level of distress. Both individuals and parents who struggle to provide basic needs are met with additional pressures - not just of providing gifts, but to be happy and present in other people's lives.

"If you're sulking or depressed, you're a Scrooge, there's something wrong with you. So put that in the same bucket as stigma...and you put up pretenses or you avoid social situations all together," says Perez.

There are proven links between social isolation and negative long-term health effects, Perez says. In addition to understanding the source of one's stress, she says, it is more important to know how it feels to be distressed and what to do about it.

"One can help to create pockets of comfort and contentness in our own home, but it's really about examining what makes one happy," she says. Simple daily activities such as reading a book, exercising, talking with a friend, or creating a comfortable environment are things many people can do to help combat feeling overwhelmed.

During a time of generosity and celebration, Perez hopes that there can be more of an "emphasis on gratitude for the things we have, but more importantly, the aspect of giving to other people whether or not they have resources."

Whether it's through additional social support or providing good experiences to others, she encourages all to "take that extra step of courage to reach out."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.