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Dallas mental health experts give advice on getting through 5 holiday “stress traps”
You're not alone if the holidays are hard for you.
November 21, 2023
Holiday happiness. It’s the thing we’re supposed to be swimming in by now. But for many, the holidays are a minefield, from money woes to family drama.
“There are a lot of societal expectations and media imagery about being happy this time of year,” said Joel Baskin, M.D., staff psychiatrist at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “So, if you’re feeling stressed and miserable, add onto that the feeling that somehow you’re doing it wrong.”
Spoiler alert: You’re not doing it wrong. It’s a challenging time of the year for a lot of people. The key may not be finding a way to totally avoid stress. Rather, it’s all about learning to navigate stress in a way that makes life feel manageable. Maybe even jolly.
1. Overcommitment and overwhelm
The holidays often bring fun and festivities, but that isn’t always a positive. Routines may go out the window. Work hours and responsibilities can change or increase. Family time can further squeeze our energy or schedules.
Healthy navigation of overcommitment and overwhelm takes a toolbox of strategies, said Cassandra Holt Kimbell, MSEd, LPC, NCC, owner and lead therapist at Dallas-based Freestyle Therapy LLC.
“One tool is learning how to create a mental calm space through grounding exercises that use the five senses,” Holt Kimbell said. “This can get you back in your body, and your coworkers won’t even know what you’re doing.”
She offered examples like keeping a scent close by that has positive associations, spending time feeling the hot water during handwashing, and even sticking your head in the freezer for a few moments.
Other important tools include creating a realistic schedule that not only accommodates commitments but also includes dedicated downtime. That could mean scheduling proper amounts of sleep and making time for some form of movement — walking is ideal for boosting overall well-being. It goes a long way toward balancing unavoidable stressors.
One of the almost universally experienced stress traps during the holidays is money. Namely, needing more of it. Inflation makes the situation more difficult this year. The average family is spending about $700 more each month on the same goods and services compared to two years ago, according to Moody’s Analytics. Yikes.
But with preparation, financial awareness doesn’t have to become financial fear. The first step is an assessment of resources and a plan for the season. Budgeting advice is everywhere; one option we like is cash stuffing (also known as the envelope system). This allows you to physically portion out your monthly income into different spending categories and plan accordingly. The hashtag #cashstuffing on TikTok offers a plethora of instruction and entertainment. The key idea is to avoid debt.
Just thinking about money can be upsetting for many people, Holt Kimbell said. She suggests breaking down negative beliefs and thoughts on paper.
“You can make a list of them — what are the things that are bothering me?” she said. “Break it down and look for the core belief that’s underneath the fear.”
3. Family Relationship
Managing challenging family situations and relationships requires a thoughtful approach all year. During the holidays, when expectations and events often increase, there’s an added dimension.
For some people, the challenge comes from loss, said Dr. Baskin.
“Many people are dealing with recent losses and bereavement or the end of a relationship through divorce or a breakup,” he said.
For others, historical or current family dysfunction creates holiday stress. When facing this kind of dynamic during the holidays, one word can make all the difference: boundaries. They are part of self-care and create clarity.
For Holt Kimbell, boundaries establish limits on the time and emotional energy needed for any interaction. As the saying goes, “No is a complete sentence.”
“We need to remember that people treat us how we teach them to,” Holt Kimbell said. “For example, some people are stressed because family won’t stop texting or they worry they’ll be mad about something, pick the time of day when you’ll be the calmest to deal with it.”
Taking time to decompress is also essential. Go back to that schedule you created and make sure there’s time for self-reflection and activities you want to do. Additionally, don’t hesitate to seek free mental health services in Dallas to talk about your feelings and get support and perspective.
During the holidays, overindulging in food and alcohol is a tempting stress trap — delightful in the moment, perhaps problematic in the long run.
“You can look at overindulgence as a thermometer of your emotional state,” Holt Kimbell said.
Now is the time to double down on self-care and coping skills. That’s because overindulgence may be a response to stress, loneliness, or other emotional challenges.
By paying attention to what’s bothering you, you can address the root causes rather than relying on excess consumption as a coping mechanism. That awareness shines a light on feelings and creates an opportunity to pause and consider the choices at hand.
5. Sadness and anxiety
Free-floating sadness and anxiety are common during the holidays, Dr. Baskin said. There are ways to manage stress so it doesn’t develop into a diagnosable condition.
“This time of year, it’s easy to let go of things we do on a regular basis to maintain health, like going to the gym or going for a walk,” he said, noting that exercise is an evidence-based way to boost overall mood, promote everyday health, and help with quality sleep.
Although adding more activities might seem counterintuitive, Holt Kimbell recommends looking through Meetup.com for volunteer opportunities. Doing something meaningful with like-minded people can offer a big mood boost. Meetup is also a great resource for other stress-reducers, like meditation classes, mindfulness groups, and sound healing, for example.
When is it time to get professional help? “If you’re experiencing problems that impair functioning — work, family, or emotional regulation — those are reasons to seek professional help,” Dr. Baskin said. “We all could potentially benefit from counseling, for example, to manage stress.”
For those with sub-par or no health insurance, there are options. Some income levels will qualify for services through the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority. Veterans should also check their eligibility for the VA, said Dr. Baskin, who also serves as the assistant chief of psychiatry of the Primary Care–Mental Health Integration Team at the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
“Over the last several years, there have been several large expansions of eligibility for care,” he said. “We want veterans to come see us.”
Holt Kimbell offers several group options, including one planned for January, the “Let That Sh** Go” workshop. It can help decompress after the holidays with writing, yoga, and group therapy.
In the case of acute distress, there is now a National Suicide Crisis Line in the U.S., 9-8-8, which is available by text, too.
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5 ways to create the staycation of your dreams in and around Atlanta
Get the rest and relaxation you want right here in your own backyard.
Want a getaway without actually having to get away? If you’ve got some PTO to burn or simply want a long weekend to escape the grind, there are plenty of ways to simulate the vacation experience in and around Atlanta, from spa-days to road trips to idyllic areas nearby. During the holiday season or throughout year, toss your to-do list to the side and get out of your element while saving some time and money.
Find incredible nature nearby
If you feel like a dose of nature, Georgia offers an abundance of National Parks, nature reserves, trails and bodies of water to peruse.
Take a trip to Vogel State Park, located at the base of the Blood Mountain, and travel through Neel Gap to Brasstown Bald—the highest point in the beautiful state of Georgia. If you’re looking for an impressive water feature, see a stunning 729-foot waterfall at Amicalola Falls State Park, where you can also enjoy a rustic cabin stay or luxe hotel resort, many with incredible scenic views. It’s even possible to sample something close-to-home in Sweetwater Creek National Park, offering miles of serene wilderness (and excellent fishing spots) just miles away from the city.
In fact, you don’t even need to leave Atlanta—it’s known as the “city in the forest” for a reason, with trees providing a canopy throughout the greater metro area. Wildlife enthusiasts, grab your binoculars and visit Blue Heron Nature Preserve in North Buckhead, where three miles of distinct habitats are home to a stunning mix of creatures, from butterflies to turtles and, of course, the Great Blue Heron. Nestled in Atlanta’s Cascade Heights, the Cascade Springs Nature Conservancy features springs, waterfalls and 250-million-year-old rock formations. Constitution Lakes is a decidedly unique experience, thanks to the playful (or creepy, depending on your thoughts) Doll Head Trail, where found items, including abandoned doll parts, dot the scenery.
Relax at the spa or create an experience at home
Is your perfect idea of a vacation to pamper yourself? Jeju Sauna is a Korean bathhouse with various kinds of dry and wet saunas including rooms that utilize crystal, clay, charcoal and pink Himalayan Sea salt rooms, each offering their own healing purpose. Open 24/7, Jeju also has a restaurant and services such as massages, manicures and pedicures for an extra fee.
If your perfect getaway isn’t getting away at all, why not try a full spa day at home? Visit the beehive to find handmade-in-Atlanta soap, candles, linen sprays and a bath bombs from North/South Soap Company, or find one-of-a-kind candles from A Bearden Project with scents like Rose Garden, Moroccan Cashmere and Nature Walk. You can also stop by Atlo at Lee + White in the West End—a refill station where you can embrace the low-waste lifestyle with natural home and body products like shampoos, conditioners, body oils and more. Many of the products are produced by local Atlantans.
Take an easy road trip
If a pricey plane trip isn’t on your agenda, you can still travel a few hours out of the city to explore something new while not venturing too far. Helen, Georgia will transport you with scenic outdoor views and Bavarian-style architecture, where among the quaint buildings you’ll find beer crawls, candy and fudge shops and plenty of boutiques. If your tastes run a bit more gothic, try Savannah, Georgia with pristine parks and centuries-old live oaks that frame hip eateries, moody speakeasies and trendy shops. Or, visit any number of quaint centers close to Atlanta, like Marietta Square, where you’ll find a theater with films and live theater, a record shop, antique stores, boutiques, restaurants and farmers and artist markets to explore on weekends.
Stay among the trees
Take your glamping and camping up a notch by visiting one of the many spectacular rentals close to the city — with some that will quite literally elevate your overnight experience. A three-story treehouse retreat in Kennesaw is situated among the canopy and even offers a treasure-hunt so you can embrace your inner thrill seeker. For those seeking an adult summer camp experience, enjoy a treehouse in Suches featuring river-front views, an outdoor kitchen, private, spacious balconies and nearby trails to truly immerse yourself in nature. If “roughing it” isn’t in your vocabulary, there are plenty of options for upscale cabins that fuse hygge and modern amenities, like this gem in Tiger in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains — though you may feel like you’re in another country altogether.
Stay and play right here in ATL
Atlanta is expansive, but you can cover more ground with a guided bike or scooter tour. Atlanta Street Art Tours is an excellent way to gain a new appreciation for the public art around the city, where you’ll hit notable murals while hearing details about the artists themselves and interesting details about the area. For those with a heart for history, Civil Bike Tours makes stops at Atlanta’s iconic civil rights locations.
After you’re done touring the city, indulge in a stay at one of the many luxury and boutique hotels, from nationally acclaimed brands like the Ritz Carlton Atlanta, The St. Regis Atlanta, Waldorf Astoria Atlanta or the Four Seasons Atlanta to enjoy fine dining and plush amenities for a VIP experience. Or, if you’re looking for more Atlanta-specific stays, consider the Stonehurst Place, where “SoHo meets sweet tea” or The Kimpton Sylvan for beautiful views and a heavenly pool.
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The best and most original spa treatments in and around Phoenix
Find new ways to heal, relax, and rejuvenate.
It seems we’re all facing a never-ending to-do list these days, which makes it even more important to carve out some self-care time to relax in between activities. A massage, facial or wrap may be the best gift you can give yourself — and you’re in luck, as Phoenix’s high-end resorts are known for their luxurious spas. Read on to discover the truly special experiences that harness the power of locally sourced ingredients, pay homage to the rituals of ancient practices and bring a unique perspective to wellness of the mind, body and spirit.
Step into an oasis built right into the desert landscape at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale spa. During the truly magical 90-minute Nopal Massage, your massage therapist applies warm prickly pear cactus gel filled with antioxidants, minerals and vitamins all over by using the fleshy insides of cactus paddles directly on your skin.
Another signature therapy is the Prickly Pear Renewal, which gently exfoliates with a prickly pear body polish, followed by a soothing massage with prickly pear oil. And the Turquoise Sage Renewal treatment exfoliates dull skin with a turquoise sage body scrub native to the Sonoran Desert, followed by a full body massage with a turquoise sage oil.
Finally, Desert Bathing is part of the rotating calendar of weekly programming, drawing inspiration from the resort’s setting in the high Sonoran Desert, amid towering saguaro cactus and craggy rock formations. The full-sensory experience begins with intention-setting, along with a mindfulness and grounding exercise. Guests then embark on a meditative hike and conclude at The Spa with cooling, aromatherapy-scented towels and a brief re-centering exercise.
Up for a little road trip north? Sedona is only a two-hour drive, but you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle of Phoenix once you arrive — and that’s precisely why a spa experience among the iconic red rocks is so special. The Velvet Spa at the recently opened Ambiente property is rooted in blending ancient wellness practices with innovative technologies, specializing in treatments that integrate regionally sourced ingredients with mystical properties for which Sedona is widely revered. For instance, the 90-minute Sacred Sedona Clay Wrap uses detoxifying Sedona clay that your therapist will artistically paint on your body with a soft brush.
Energy work is a big buzzword in Sedona, due to the region’s many vortexes (swirling centers of energy conducive to healing, meditation and self-reflection), so it’s no surprise you’ll find treatments drawing upon the city’s new-age culture. The Celestial Chakra session uses sound bowls, moon-shaped crystals and reflexology to bring your chakras back into balance, while the Natural Flow Reiki treatment helps improve energy flow to feel lighter and recharged.
Located within the high Sonoran Desert of Carefree, Arizona, and named for the 12-million-year-old granite boulder formations that dot the landscape, Boulders Resort & Spa is a highly sought-after setting for relaxation. The ancient peoples who originally inhabited this sacred land considered the surrounding rock formations to be spiritual. Take some time to step outside and connect with the earth on your visit — there’s even a labyrinth onsite.
One beloved service offered is a private or group Meditation in the Tipi, where guests can relax into the healing space of Mother Earth, emerging renewed and connected to the inner spirit. Another is Sound Meditation, which uses music and sound to clear the mind and deepen meditation. Native American Shamans used this ancient practice, which combined chanting with multi-dimensional music that links realms of the brain to immerse the mind and promote a sense of well-being.
With only three ultra-luxurious Sisley-Paris Spas in the entire country, we’re lucky to have one right here in Phoenix, as part of the Well & Being Spa at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. This white glove Euro-style experience pairs modern-day science with natural botanicals for innovative facial treatments. The signature Black Rose Facial is 90 minutes of pure sensorial bliss, as the aesthetician does a well-orchestrated dance across your face and decolletage with their fingers.
Plan to spend your entire day being pampered to take advantage of all the amenities. With any treatment (including those at Well & Being Spa, like the Desert Soul Body Ritual with cactus bloom scrub and cactus blossom oil or the 120-minute Havasupai Falls Rejuvenation sage smudging and thermal mineral magnesium soak), you’ll also have full-day access to the exclusive rooftop adults-only pool, a co-ed grotto waterfall pool, a hot therapeutic whirlpool and cold plunge pool, a eucalyptus aromatherapy room, Swiss shower, Swedish dry sauna, fitness center and classes (some fees may apply) and delicious spa cuisine at the pool or in the garden atrium.
Aji Spa — named after the sacred Aji Mountain in the Gila River Indian Community and translating to sanctuary in the Pima language — offers a one-of-a-kind spa experience in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. This healing hub for relaxation and rejuvenation brings together contemporary spa treatments with the sacred doctrines of the Pima and Maricopa tribes, with oversight from cultural caretakers to ensure the authenticity of cultural traditions and ideas.
Three standout treatments include the Ho’ishp sacred prickly pear body treatment to help nourish and detoxify the skin; the Ancient Shegoi Wrap and Massage (shegoi is the oldest-living plant in the world and sacred to the Gila River community for its healing and medicinal properties) that includes dry brushing and a scalp massage; and Nahtogig, a one-of-a-kind treatment that represents the elements of sunset, illumination, sandstorm and water.
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