Maintaining Positive Mental Health During Holidays Key to Quality of Life

Nov 9, 2021

BROWNSVILLE & HARLINGEN – As COVID cases throughout the Rio Grande Valley continue to decline from surge levels and area residents shift their attention to the holidays, health experts are reminding the community that taking care of mental health is critical to managing challenging times.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has somewhat loosened its guidelines for travel and group gatherings, a number of guidelines still remain in place, including avoiding travel for unvaccinated individuals, and taking enhanced precautions for gatherings of multiple households regardless of vaccination status.

It is important to realize that the tough decisions associated with following those guidelines can weigh heavily on mental health, said Becky Tresnicky, director of behavioral health services & performance excellence at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Brownsville.

“Having to make decisions to potentially skip the holiday trip or family gathering, will lead to having to cope not just with your own emotions, but your family’s emotions as well. For everyone involved, acknowledging the negative emotions and the sadness or disappointment is very important. Remember, ignoring emotions is not the same as controlling them; it’s just suppressing them,” she said. “It’s OK to admit that you are sad and disappointed and that you will miss these events. But, it’s entirely possible to still turn the holidays into a positive experience with alternative plans, even if they’re not the plans you’d hoped for. Traditionally, holidays create a spirit of giving and excitement which is good for our mental health — embrace the traditions you have and create new ones. They will ‘look’ different but they can still provide a sense of stability and belongingness.”

As the COVID-19 wanes, a continued fear of the unknown can cause a range of emotions that can take their toll on both mental health and quality of life, said Anthony Manuel, director of Valley Baptist-Harlingen’s Geriatric Behavioral Health Unit.

“Fear and anxiety about any disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in all of us. With COVID-19, we are still dealing with a lot of uncertainty and a lot of grief that the pandemic has caused, which can lead us to feel powerless and vulnerable,” he said. “But being able to cope with the fear and stress puts us back in control of things. It is important to take care of your basic needs and engage in healthy coping strategies.”

Tresnicky said that while declining COVID-19 cases throughout the region can help ease COVID-related stress, local residents should continue to monitor their mental health as the holidays are often accompanied by high-stress events.

“Even though, thankfully, the COVID-19 pandemic is easing, it is important for each of us to take control of the holidays to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.  Don’t let the holidays become something you dread,” she said. “Be proactive and take steps to prevent the stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompanies the holiday season. Learn to recognize your triggers, such as personal demands, financial pressures, or other issues so you can get ahead of them before they lead to an emotion crisis. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you will be in control and find peace and happiness during this time of the year. It is important to remember there is always help if you need emotional support!”

When it comes to the holiday season, everyone approaches the feelings associated with family gatherings differently, Tresnicky said, stressing the importance of focusing on positives associated with the holidays to help maintain good mental health.

“The holidays intensify our feelings and emotions. In some cases they may magnify the feelings of anxiety, depression, and family conflict that make holiday gatherings, whether in person or virtual, challenging and emotionally draining,” she said. “In other cases, for people who thrive on family contact and love to socialize and connect with others, they can be exciting and fun.  Wherever you are on the emotional spectrum, there are a few things you can do to make the holidays more enjoyable.”

For individuals who may be experiencing mental health challenges during the COVID-19 situation, the Texas Health and Human Services Department has established a toll-free COVID-19 mental health support line at (833) 986-1919. Those experiencing severe depression or suicidal/homicidal ideations should contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.


As the holidays approach, mental health experts have offered these tips to help cope with changes to holiday plans:

  • Acknowledge your feelings. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, contact someone. It may help to talk to a friend or family member about your feelings. Also, you may try doing something to help others. This takes your mind off your negative emotions and creates a sense of well-being as you help someone else.
  • Don't abandon healthy habits:
    • Eat healthy meals
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine
    • Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga
    • Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use
  • Be aware of how the media can produce undue stress, and adjust the time you spend reading news and social media
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Read a book
 Seek professional help if you need it… Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious and depressed.  You may be unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine daily activities. If these feelings continue, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

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