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Be Well During the Holiday Season

By Burrell Behavioral Health

The holiday season is in full swing, and it's no secret that we all want to feel happy during this time of year. The truth is, though, the holidays can be hard. Dr. Shelly Farnan, Vice President of Burrell's Be Well Initiatives, explained that some of us may be experiencing overwhelm, grief, worry, sadness, or other feelings that are anything but "merry and bright."

"While we want so badly for the joy to just consume us, sometimes that is just not our reality or realistic about this season," Farnan said.

Even if we're not feeling holly and jolly, Farnan added, all of us do deserve to feel and actually be safe when it comes to our finances, our physical health, our families, and our mental wellness.

"If we can root ourselves in one question, it is that: 'Do we feel safe? Are we actually safe?' And if the answer is no, making sure that we are giving ourselves permission to make adjustments necessary to feel safe," Farnan said. "That's back to the brain science. If our brains are not feeling safe, we're not setting ourselves up for wellness and health and the best outcomes that we can."

Many of us may be desperate to get back together with our families for holiday gatherings, but at the same time, we might still not be comfortable doing so because of COVID-19 concerns. Farnan said these are difficult decisions to make and difficult conversations to have with those we love. She said it's okay to explain if we only feel comfortable attending gatherings while wearing a mask, and it's also okay if we don't feel comfortable attending at all.

Some of us might be apprehensive about polarizing topics of conversation that might come up around the dinner table if we do get together with family or friends.

"Family strife and family discord are not new to this season. There are so many additional layers this year," Farnan said.

She said planning ahead is key.

"Let's go ahead and identify those topics that we just know are going to come up and we also know we don't feel safe or comfortable with and let's set a plan with that," Farnan said. "Know the boundaries you are going to set. That doesn't even mean you have to share that boundary with anyone. When you share that boundary, often that raises the person's need or want to argue with you."

Farnan suggested a few strategies for handling hot button issues.

"Either, these are my talking points that I'm willing to say or I'm going to excuse myself when this happens," she said.

She also suggested simply changing the subject. No matter what works for each of us, Farnan said we should get comfortable with how we plan to handle whatever situation comes our way.

"Most importantly, stay calm because your health deserves it. If you allow your system to overwhelm because of that conversation you don't want to have, your health is the one that suffers as a result," she said.

Farnan said our brain health and mental well-being are the top priorities. She said we can all practice self-care by checking in with ourselves and asking, "How am I doing? What do I need right now?" Then, she said, actually respond and make the adjustments necessary to arrive as our best selves.

When it comes to financial strain, Farnan encourages all of us to listen to our intuitions.

"Don't go against your internal gut. If you can't afford the gift, don't buy the gift. If you can't gift at all, you are gift enough. Give time, gift energy to people. Don't go against what your core need is," she said.

We can all overlook the basics, but they can be so important during this time. We all need to make sure we're focusing on the following:

  • Getting regular sleep
  • Being mindful of the substances we're consuming
  • Trying to exercise, which can be tough in such a busy season
  • Not being too judgmental with ourselves when it comes to food and eating

The easiest thing for all of us to do, Farnan sad, is to breathe deep breaths into our bellies, which is something we can all do during any gathering or any stressor we're facing. That can regulate our nervous systems and relax our bodies and our brains.

Bottom line, Farnan said, "Navigate with grace and care, as much for yourself as you do for other people."

For guidance from the American Psychological Association, click here.


The Be Well Community is here for you. Connect through self-care and wellness on Facebook during a live Be Well Segment, or rewatch a previous one.

Anyone who needs immediate help navigating overwhelm or crisis can contact Burrell Behavioral Health's free Crisis Lines, which are available 24/7:
Southwest Missouri (1-800-494-7355)
Central Missouri (1-800-395-2132)
Northwest Arkansas (1-888-518-0108)

24-Hour Crisis Line

Call our toll-free, 24-hour telephone line for help with your immediate crisis situation.

for Southwest Missouri: 1-800-494-7355

for Central Missouri: 1-800-395-2132

Northwest Arkansas: 1-888-518-0108