By Rhonda L. Randall, D.O., Chief Medical Officer at UnitedHealthcare
The holiday season can evoke a range of strong emotions. While stereotypically associated with feelings of joy and excitement, the holiday months can also be ridden with physical and mental demands — from cooking meals and hosting family, to entertaining and traveling — which may trigger less-than-jolly experiences.
With the holiday season in full gear, recognizing the intrinsic connection between our mental and physical health may be more important than ever. If your mental health is suffering, your physical health may suffer and vice versa — which may mean our nationwide decline in mental wellbeing has potential physical consequences.
How can we better prepare for this potential one-two punch to our health? Approaching this holiday season with a whole-person health perspective — acknowledging that social, emotional, economic and environmental conditions may affect your health — can make all the difference, empowering each of us to develop a system that integrates practices to boost physical and emotional health.
Learn And Recognize Your Triggers And Responses
The first step to developing healthy coping mechanisms and managing your response is pinpointing your triggers. Some unhealthy responses to stress include smoking, drinking or eating too much, and lashing out at others. If you notice any of these feelings arise, pay attention to what might have triggered the response and consider the following tips to help mitigate your response:
1. Deep breathing and guided meditation. Meditation trains your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. This technique is linked to reductions in anxiety, improved responses to stress and may help improve depression symptoms and reduce negative thoughts.
Tip: If you’re confused where to start, consider trying out an emotional support, self-care app that may help you cope with mild stress, anxiety and depression.
2. Maintain physical exercise and good nutrition. Physical activity is linked to lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, and gut health is directly linked to our mental health. This does not need to be complex or expensive — a 30-minute walk may help ease symptoms related to depression and anxiety, relieve stress and improve mood.
Tip: Many health plans offer wellness incentives and rewards programs for everyday healthy living, such as exercising, avoiding nicotine, or enrolling in a gym membership or other wellness programs.
3. Connect with your primary care provider. While taking action to implement physical health and mindfulness practices may provide great benefits, remember that it is not a substitute for mental health treatment. If you find yourself continuing to struggle, consider talking to your primary care provider (PCP) about ways to feel better. Your PCP can also provide guidance on obtaining additional support from a mental health professional. If you don’t have a PCP, now is a great time to establish a relationship with one. You can get details on your health plan’s website or app — or call the number on your member ID card.
Tip: If you are at home for the holidays and are having a hard time finding a quiet and private place to connect with a mental health professional, or are concerned about financial pressures, some health insurers give members access to a provider virtually via an app on their phone or computer.
With a little preparation, we can help ourselves — and our loved ones — have happier, healthier holidays, and a fresh start for the new year ahead.