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Holiday Mental Health, with Alyssa Petersel

Holiday Mental Health, with Alyssa Petersel

Navigating loneliness, and the importance of setting boundaries during the holiday season.

December 23, 2021 by Clevr ft. Alyssa Petersel

Welcome back to the Clevr series on Mental Health During the Holidays! In this interview, we speak with Alyssa Petersel, a licensed social worker and the Founder + CEO of MyWellbeing. Alyssa shares tips on how to navigate stress and loneliness during the holidays, the importance of setting boundaries, and how to support our bodies and minds during the winter season. We are honored to share this knowledge with you and hope that offers you support and encouragement during the holiday season.

After reading through the following questions, if you are seeking more support, you can find more from Alyssa on My Wellbeing:

MyWellbeing matches you (or a loved one) with the right therapist or coach, and also offers Grounding Groups for people of color, Crisis Resources, Content Corner (at no cost!), and Small Talks (~5 min videos from high-quality therapists on various mental health topics).

Now we invite you to get cozy, with your favorite SuperLatte in hand, and enjoy this conversation with Alyssa!

    Q:

    What are some of the leading causes of heightened stress, anxiety and depression during the holidays?

    A:

    One cause is carrying past memories with us. Milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays can often remind us of the past, consciously or not. Especially if you have experienced grief or trauma, these can initiate feelings of loss or loneliness, or you may experience feelings of survivor’s guilt or PTSD. Another cause is reality manifesting differently than our expectations. We're conditioned by society and mainstream media that this should be a happy and jolly time. For many, that's not the case, and when we experience that contrast, we feel "less than" or "broken," compared to the smiling faces we see on social media and on TV. Lastly, many of us are socializing for the first time in two years. Like any muscle, we’ve been out of practice, and when out of practice, things can feel awkward, tense, and need a bit of practice to get up and running again.

    Q:

    Why is it important to set personal boundaries during the holiday season?

    A:

    Boundaries are challenging and cause heightened stress. You may be receiving more invitations than your calendar can manage, which can lead to fear of disappointing those who you say no to, or feelings of panic, anxiety, and overwhelm if you are running around constantly. If you are context switching between work, social, and family engagement, that can also lead to your mind and body working extra hard to behave in the “right” way, which is exhausting.

    Q:

    How can people navigate loneliness during this time?

    A:

    Seeking community and connection is important. One practice to adopt is texting one friend per day to initiate conversation and connection. I also recommend joining a local fitness group to schedule in daily movement and to begin to nurture roots and build community. Another practice is to show appreciation to at least one person per day - for example, complimenting your local neighborhood barista. It is also so important to be patient, compassionate and gentle with yourself. Speak with yourself as you would with a dear friend or loved one. Lastly, respect yourself by creating boundaries with how much time you spend on social media. Seek connection outside of social media.

    Q:

    What advice can you share on supporting those in our lives who are experiencing extra grief, sadness, loneliness during this season?

    A:

    Send them a food or flower delivery, just because. Send them a handmade gift. Insist on spending quality time together, virtually or in-person as your geography allows (ex: virtual movie night or in-person game night). Text them one GIF per day. Help them with the administrative work of finding a good fit therapist or coach. Attend a local fitness session together.

    Q:

    What does the changing of seasons do to our brains and nervous systems? How can we bring bodies and minds back into balance?

    A:

    Light is a powerful resource for our minds and bodies. When we receive healthy doses of natural sunlight, we are meaningfully happier and more optimistic. When we do not, we are more vulnerable to concerns like depression and anxiety. To facilitate more balance, try to get direct sunlight at least twice per day, even just for a few minutes. Here are some suggestions for getting natural light: put your face up to the window that gets natural light, take a walk around your neighborhood for 5 mins per day, take the dog out for a walk or break, or purchase a light lamp that can give you natural light even if you’re indoors without windows. Hold yourself accountable to using it 1-2x/day.

    Q:

    What are some ways to improve our sleep and make sure that we are getting quality sleep during this time of year?

    A:

    One suggestion is to set a routine of going to sleep around the same time each night and waking up around the same time each morning. Yes, including weekends. The more regular your sleep routine is, the higher quality your sleep will be, but be gentle with yourself if the exact time is not possible - you’re human. In addition, reduce screen time for at least one hour before bed and upon immediate waking. You will rest more soundly and wake more naturally, which will impact the quality of your sleep (and thus, the quality of your mental health), as well as the energy and resilience you have throughout your days.

    Helen Rau
    Author

    Clevr ft. Alyssa Petersel

    Alyssa Petersel, LMSW is the Founder + CEO of MyWellbeing, the leading personalized mental health care solution for Millennial consumers. Alyssa is also a writer and thought leader at the intersection of mental health and tech; notably named Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 in Consumer Tech.