COVID-19, financial struggles contributing to holiday mental health concerns

Many Minnesotans are feeling extra stress this holiday season, according to a local psychologist.

"We are seeing more anxiety in the general population," said Dr. Cheryl Bemel with Allina Health.

She is hearing multiple concerns from patients, including financial struggles due to inflation and ongoing fears with COVID-19.

She said people’s perspectives related to the pandemic also seem to have shifted in recent days.

"A year ago, I was actually hearing more hopelessness than I’m hearing now. Now people are used to it, so I’m not hearing the hopelessness as much as the frustration of, when is this going to end?" Bemel said.

Some Minnesotans told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they are feeling increased stress over school closings and childcare complications, confusion over the new omicron variant of the virus and tensions with family members over masking and vaccines.

"At the end of the day, I know I’m not the only person struggling, everybody is," said Keely Biddlecom of Maple Grove. "For me, keeping up with bills and trying to make Christmas happen, especially when you have kids, it’s very stressful."

Elaine Castile of Minneapolis added, "When I got in my garage this morning, my tire was flat. It’s not a good feeling, especially when your pocket is for Christmas."

Bemel encourages Minnesotans to take a big-picture perspective on stressors that may be building in their lives.

"It’s easy to fall into, oh my gosh, things have never been this bad," Bemel said. "But these feelings and thoughts, if they’re extremely uncomfortable, they will pass. Remember that you are not going to feel that way forever."

Bemel helps her patients process difficult feelings and tries to give some practical advice for battling the blues.

"Some of that is basic, general self-care. Let’s not forget the importance of getting outside. I tell my patients that getting outside every day, it’s not an option, it’s a form of treatment," Bemel said.

She also recommends getting daily exercise to help restore both your body and mind.

"Another idea, do something that you’ve never done before. Do something that’s creative. Take on something you never thought in your wildest dreams you would take on because that can change the chemicals in our mind and our body and can turn on what we call neuropathways, new ways of learning and being with ourselves," Bemel said.

She encourages Minnesotans to connect with other people, animals and nature when they are feeling stressed.

And she suggests sticking to an established routine.

"We all love exciting new surprises but think back to kindergarten and preschool. It’s that structure that helps us feel safe and self-regulated," Bemel said.

And for people who spend the holiday sick, in quarantine or distanced from friends and family, she recommends acknowledging the difficult feelings but not dwelling on them.

"This is a blip on the screen. Remind ourselves that we do have other holidays we can look forward to. This is only one of many," Bemel said.