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Protect your mental health this holiday season

Ellen Abbott

It’s advertised as “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many people, the holiday season can take a serious toll on their mental health.

Rich O’Neill, Ph. D., a psychologist and professor at SUNY Upstate and the host of WCNY’s “Cycle of Health,” said this month is an important time to assess how you’re feeling.

"One of the things that happens is a lot of stuff gets scrunched into a short period of time, so our usual resources are being taxed by all of this extra stuff," O’Neill said.

O’Neill said stress can be triggered by things that are unpredictable, uncontrollable, or dangerous. It can help to focus on what you can control. If you have too much on your plate, setting boundaries is essential.

"Think, 'what is reasonable for me to do? How much time and energy do I have?'” said O’Neill. “And then, when somebody asks you, ‘Can you do this or do that?’ then, think in your head, 'Do I really have the resources to do that?'"

And for people dealing with tricky family situations, it can help to set ground rules ahead of time, like avoiding controversial topics.

"The goal is to have a fun time,” said O’Neill. “It's not to solve the long standing family dynamic issues that have been around for 100 years."

Keeping up with healthy habits can also help, like exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, and avoiding too much alcohol.

"All of those things take care of us our physical self,” O’Neill said. “If that's taken care of, our stress level is going to be down."

If mental health struggles become more serious, O’Neill said reach out for help any way you can, whether that’s calling your doctor, 911, or the nationwide suicide and crisis hotline 988.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.