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How to mentally survive the holidays

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SALT LAKE CITY — Last year, the pandemic resulted in a much quieter holiday season — for many, an unexpected silver lining with less stress and anxiety.

The busy calendar is back, and COVID-19 is still here.

A Utah psychiatrist explained how to stay healthy mentally and emotionally this season.

To reduce holiday stress, mother of six, Marion McClellan strategizes. When her kids were young, all the gifts were wrapped and under the tree by Thanksgiving. Then, she looked forward to "mom week."

"From Christmas to New Years, I did whatever I wanted, which would include maybe, you know binge-reading five books or doing nothing," McClellan said.

For her, the slower pace of last year was a welcome change. "I loved not having to go places or to do things," McClellan said. "I love that everything was canceled. Or if someone did invite us, I loved not having to go."

Experts say during the holidays it's good to remember what's worked well in the past to help you manage stress and anxiety, like sticking to a routine.

"Oftentimes stress during the holidays is caused by us because we take on more than we can, we can really manage," said Dr. Travis Mickelson, psychiatrist, Intermountain Healthcare. Mickelson said setting healthy boundaries is important.

"Being better at saying 'no,' making sure that we're staying within our means," he said. Also, make sure you eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep, and spend time outside. These practices foster resilience.

"In order for me to be on my A-game, I need to make sure that I'm taking care of myself," he said. "I need to make sure that I'm focusing on what I know I can do for myself, what I have control over what I have control over." Also, be in the moment and forget about the past. Focus on spending time with those you love, while still taking COVID-19 precautions.

It's advice McClellan takes to heart. "I kind of feel reset to a slower pace," she said. It gives her more time to do things she loves like making quilts for people all over the world.

As her kids have gotten older, "mom week" continues. "Absolutely. It will probably carry on to all of January and most of February. It's turned into 'mom winter.'"

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Heather Simonsen
Heather Simonsen is a five-time Emmy Award-winning enterprise reporter for KSL-TV. Her expertise is in health and medicine, drug addiction, science and research, family, human interest and social issues. She is the host and producer of KSL-TV’s Positively 50+ initiative.


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