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Effective ways to manage stress levels this upcoming season

From elections to the upcoming holidays, November can be stressful. Dr. Mike Franz offers advice to manage mental health throughout the season.

PORTLAND, Ore. — November is ripe for stress — from elections and a time change to the looming holiday season. Regence Senior Medical Director of Behavioral Health, Dr. Mike Franz has advice on how to manage stress.

Seasonal affective disorder:

Daylight saving time just happened which means darker days. Plus, the rainy season has arrived. Both can lead to seasonal affective disorder also known as SAD.

Dr. Franz said individuals' circadian rhythm is trying to get back in sync and that alone can be a trigger.

SAD impacts about 10% of the population in the Pacific Northwest.

“Fatigue is really a predominant symptom, as is low mood and decreased interest in activities you've previously felt were pleasurable, but also an increase in carbohydrate cravings and increase in appetite is specific to seasonal affective disorder,” Franz said.

Anyone that is being impacted by SAD is advised to reach out to their doctor. 

“This is treatable and in addition to perhaps psychotherapy or in some cases medication. the most effective treatment for the seasonal affective disorder is actually bright light therapy,” Franz said, “and you can get a light. It needs to be of a light intensity unknown as on a scale of Lux and it's 10,000 lux.”  

Election and political stress:

The midterm elections are also a big trigger for many. There are a lot of factors at play — from worrying about election results and democracy to the divisiveness and the bombardment of negative messaging.

“The American Psychological Association did a study which recently showed that 70% of people don't even think that their country and their government cares about them anymore. Another study says that 40% of people have thought about leaving the state in which they live because of the politics and then on top of this is just the concern about the economy and inflation,” Franz said. “So, that's another topic right now that I think a lot of people are understandably worried about.”  

To help ease some of that anxiety, remember to unplug and detach from social media. Take a break from constant news coverage. Franz also said it’s important to focus on the things one can control, instead of what they cannot.

Holiday season stress:

The most “wonderful time of the year” isn’t so wonderful for everyone. There are a lot of factors at play: grief, family conflict and/or unrealistic expectations.  

“They remember how things used to be when their family member was present and to go through it without them can be very, very challenging. Also, some families just have a lot of strife when you are in the holiday period. There are expectations to spend more time with your families and for some folks, this is just inherently stressful, so it makes sense,” Franz said. “Plus, with the holidays, there are the expectations around cooking or hosting people buying presents, traveling all of these things could be incredibly stressful." 

To cope, people need to remember they are not alone and should acknowledge those feelings. Also, they should try to manage expectations.

“Holidays are seldom perfect for everyone, so cut yourself some slack,” Franz said. “And plan ahead. If you can take care of some things; whether it's the shopping, or the cooking, or scheduling to travel — do it a little bit in advance so it all doesn't pile up on you at the last minute.”  

One should try an keep up with healthy habits. It's the holidays, people are allowed to indulge the season, but should make sure to get back on track.

“Do some self-care. You know, refuel, make sure this is a time when you're getting plenty of rest, you’re trying to eat as healthy as you can, and stay physically active,” Franz said.

No matter what is causing stress, Franz said to talk about it, and help to manage it is available if needed. 

9-8-8 is the national suicide and crisis lifeline.

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