Coping With Holiday Stress
Episode 70: Transcribed Podcast with Denise Antonition, LCSW
December 16, 2022
Hello friends, it is Anne West, Executive Director of the Island Health and Wellness Foundation. We are back with another episode of the “Just for the Health of It” podcast. The following is a conversation that I had with Denise Antonition. Denise is a licensed clinical social worker right here on the island. She practices at Island Medical Center and also spends one day a week at Deer Isle-Stonington High School working with students. Denise grew up here on the island and is also raising her family here. She was actually my very first podcast guest over two years ago and today’s conversation is going to focus on the holidays and how to cope with the stress that sometimes accompanies this time of year. As usual, this is not intended to serve as any sort of medical or health care advice, it is just for educational purposes and hopefully we’ll have a little fun along the way. Welcome Denise! Please tell my listeners a little bit more about yourself and your background.
I’m a licensed clinical social worker. I’ve had many roles during my career in the social work field. Most recently, as you said, I work at Island Medical Center and do mental health treatment as well as substance use treatment. I see patients from age three all the way up to the elderly population. I also counsel our medication assisted treatment program and I’ve been doing that for over five years since I started here at the medical center. I specialize in children, teens and young adults. That’s really where most of my background has been. About three years ago I started going to the local high school one day a week when I found out that there was no mental health support or representation up there. That’s been really enjoyable.
Tell us a little bit more about what a licensed clinical social worker is and what they do?
A licensed clinical social worker really focuses on clinical care. A lot of what I do is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based model that research has shown is very effective in helping people who are struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma and substance use.
Why do you love practicing here on Deer Isle?
I love practicing here because as you said, I grew up here. I’m raising my family here. My parents grew up here and most of my extended family is here. I love this community. This is home. As I was growing up, it became really clear that, as beautiful and wonderful as it is to live here in this community, because we are so isolated and rural there are many barriers to accessing resources. For the people here, it can be such a barrier just to cross that bridge and try to seek treatment and care off island. I feel that being able to be here in this community and be accessible is a huge asset.
I tell people that because I live here they are going to see me at the store with my child having a meltdown or at an afterschool function with a child who isn’t listening. You see the real me. Just because I specialize in this area and can be a significant support, I am also a human being. My patients can see that I’m a real person with struggles too. It feels more relatable.
Why do you think this time of year is particularly stressful for people?
Well, I think there are a few different reasons why. I think that this time of year can bring up memories. Because the holidays tend to be about family and love, it can bring up loss and grief for people, whether it was a recent loss or a loss that happened some time ago. That can be hard.
I think it also has to do with the ending of the year. A new year is about to begin. It can be a time of self-reflection. Did I accomplish everything I wanted to? Am I the person I want to be? Sometimes that may be helpful, but other times it can be stressful.
Another thing that can be stressful is family gatherings. On the one hand it can be really great to have these different dinners or holiday traditions. But if you have a family where there is conflict or other things going on, it can be stressful. Even if you don’t have a family where there is conflict, just making sure the house is clean, the food is ready, the presents are wrapped- that can be stressful, too.
What are some of your suggestions for managing stress?
I have a few different suggestions and things that I try to do in my own life. The first thing is to keep it simple. As much as you can, try to keep things simple. The more simple you can make it for yourself, the less stressful it is. I think it is necessary to evaluate what parts of the holiday are most important to you and then determine what are those things that you can say no to or set boundaries for yourself around.
Another thing is setting boundaries. That looks different for different people. I think it’s important just to ask yourself, “What are my boundaries?” Whether it’s that we can’t attend a function because maybe we’ve got something else going on, or getting a smaller tree and putting up half the decorations because that is what we have time to do. We need to set boundaries with ourselves and with other people.
Do things you enjoy. That is a huge de-stressor. Don’t lose sight of that during the holiday season when you can get so wrapped up in that crazy to-do list or buying all the gifts. Bring it back to the basics of what brings you joy and making the time to do that every single day.
Getting enough sleep. That is a huge one. A lot of times stress can interfere with our sleep and not enough sleep is going to ramp up the stress. Make sure that you are getting adequate rest for yourself.
Practice gratitude. What are those things you are thankful for? When we are all caught up in that to-do list and trying to make everything perfect, we can lose sight of those non-material things we are thankful for. Go back to the basics. For example, we can be thankful we have a home, food and are healthy. Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can help us better manage stress.
What is one thing that each of us can do today to help our mental health this time of year?
I’ve got two things that I feel like are super important. I’ve already talked about them, but I’m going to say them again because they are so important, not just this time of year but any day, to manage stress for ourselves. The first is getting enough sleep. Sleep is so important. We don’t always give sleep the credit it deserves, but it can either make or break our day. Sleep impacts mental health. It affects stress. Going without adequate sleep is like running a car without changing the oil.
Number two is to practice gratitude. Every day wake up in the morning and name three non-material things you are grateful for. What are things that make you happy? It could be living in a safe community, a safe home, your animals, etc. Make gratitude a daily part of your life.
Is there something that we should not do this time of year that will add to our stress level or make coping with the challenging situations that may come up even more difficult?
I would say alcohol. There are a lot of gatherings this time of year where alcohol could be involved. It is important to avoid overindulging. Alcohol gives the perception that it will help alleviate stress temporarily, but in the long run it makes it worse. I encourage people to be mindful around alcohol intake. Alcohol doesn’t do anything to benefit us and it can really disrupt sleep.
How do people reach you to set up a counseling appointment?
The primary way is to meet with your primary care physician and have a conversation with them around therapy and counseling support. They can then put in a referral for counseling. The other way is to call Island Family Medicine directly. The phone number for the practice is 367-2311.
What is bringing you joy right now?
There are a few things that I really enjoy. One of them is just being around my kids. They are at really fun ages. My daughter’s going to be five next month and my son is seven and they’re just so funny. My daughter got this Frozen 2 microphone that we can sync with our cell phones and play songs and sing. We can have these crazy dance parties where we all take turns singing and dancing and it is so funny. Just laughing with them and seeing their joy brings me joy.
I’m also knitting again. I used to knit a lot before I had kids. It was part of my self-care routine, especially when I was in a high stress job. I stopped for a while when my kids were little. But I’ve started again and I’ve been teaching my son to knit. So I will knit on my own project or he and I will knit together.
I have been trying to work on boundaries for myself. At times in my life it has been tricky for me to feel like I can set healthy boundaries for myself and say no. Setting boundaries has helped me with my stress and that brings me joy.
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