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Monarch medical director shares ways to cope with holiday stress, seasonal depression

For many, the holiday season is a joyous and exciting time. But for those who have suffered the loss of a loved r mchale2one, engaged in family conflict or have experienced financial challenges, the usually merry season can bring sadness and pain. While experts say stress and grief is normal, coping strategies can help people manage their feelings and enjoy the holiday season.

Monarch Medical Director Dr. Robert McHale, M.D., M.S., FAPA (pictured right), a Board Certified Psychiatrist, said the stress of the holidays can not only damper your celebrations, but can also affect your health. McHale said anxiety can occur for those who feel the burden to host the “perfect holiday party” or find that “perfect gift.” Stress can also result for those who have experienced a significant loss, missing those who are no longer present for holiday celebrations and for people who are in conflict with loved ones.

“It is not uncommon, for people to seek therapy during the holidays for various reasons. People who experience stress during the holidays, like grief and loss and interpersonal relationship difficulties with family members and friends, may want to seek a brief treatment period of cognitive behavioral therapy to address their concerns,” McHale explained. “This type of treatment can be as brief as four to six sessions with the therapist. This type of therapy intervention is highly effective, and should be used for people who are suffering stress during the holidays. When the holiday season is over, often the sessions end.”

In addition to holiday stressors, McHale said during winter months with fewer daylight hours, it is also common for people to have seasonal affective disorder. He suggests that type of depression may be treated with therapy, medications, and phototherapy.

McHale shares the following suggestions to help people get through the stress of the holiday season:

      • Take some time out for yourself. Whether you pamper yourself or simply slow your daily pace, lend some time to your own personal needs and try to relax.

     • Eat a nutritious diet; get some physical exercise and plenty of sleep. Also, avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

     • Give yourself permission to express your emotions. If you feel an urge to cry, let the tears flow. Tears can be healing. Experts have found that certain brain chemicals in tears are natural pain relievers. Share the memories and the experience of your loss. Remember, there are no time limits on grief.

    • Begin new traditions and discontinue other stress-filled holiday routines.

    • Find activities that make you laugh. It is okay to laugh during difficult times.

    • Give to others. Reinvest in others as a volunteer or commit to helping with activities or events that focus on others.

McHale encourages those who need support to seek the counsel of a professional. Monarch offers Open Access, a service that allows individuals who need services to walk in for the first time without an appointment. The goal is to provide a comprehensive clinical assessment, a treatment plan, a psychiatric evaluation, with prescriptions if needed, and a referral to the proper level of care.

Monarch also provides group therapy and therapy for individuals who need confidential counseling or support. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call (866) 272-7826. 

Established in 1958, Monarch is a non-profit organization that provides support statewide to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse challenges. The agency is nationally accredited by The Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) and certified by The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as a Critical Access Behavioral Health Agency (CABHA). Monarch operates The Arc of Stanly County, which is a chapter of The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of the United States. To learn more about how Monarch provides support for people, please call (866) 272-7826 or visit
Media contact: Natasha A. Suber at (704) 986-1582 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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