The Most Wonderful Time of the Year? Not to All

Emily S. Goncalves, MD, MBA


December 07, 2021

In psychiatry, family dynamics, holidays, and vacation plans are regularly discussed. I noticed that I had a lot of patients dreading the upcoming holidays and asking to schedule appointments immediately after the holidays because they were worried about the emotional toll it would take on them.

PTSD, depression, and anxiety were common themes coming up in my conversations with patients…and yes, these are always common themes in psychiatry, but they were particularly pronounced in my patients as Thanksgiving approached.

As I reflected about my own feelings regarding the holidays, I also was experiencing some of the same emotions as my patients. My own family dynamics and traditions have changed over the years and I found myself relating to my patients who were grieving losses.

I tried reframing my thoughts about the holidays and have tried to teach patients about reframing their own thoughts, a technique called cognitive reframing. We discuss the emotions triggered by a negative thought and the behavior associated with this.

An example of this is dealing with a rude family member at the dinner table. Instead of thinking They must not like me, we change the thought to This must be a hard day for them; instead of letting this person ruin our holiday, we can move on from it more easily. This technique takes time and practice but it is very valuable and worth it.

Another suggestion I have for patients is to regularly exercise during the holidays. Exercise secretes a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps fight depression. Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reputable inhibitors have a similar role in increasing BDNF, which in turn increases neurogenesis (making new neurons), thus making new connections in the brain.

Yet another reason to run! So sign up for that holiday 5k or go for an afternoon walk, and let’s do something positive for our bodies and brains this holiday season.

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About Dr Emily Goncalves
Emily S. Goncalves, MD, MBA, is a psychiatry resident at Delaware Psychiatric Center in New Castle. She is a competitive runner and ran for Syracuse University. She continues to live an active lifestyle and has competed in eight marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Emily hopes to share her passion for running with her patients and is interested in pursuing a career in consultation and liaison psychiatry. She also enjoys writing about her running adventures.


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