OSWEGO — The holiday season can be stressful. Factor in the COVID-19 pandemic and that stress is magnified.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America defines Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) as the persistent and excessive worry about several different things.

The Communications Director for Oswego County’s Division of Mental Hygiene (OCDMH), Nicole Kolmsee, said that while it is impossible to determine the number of people affected by GAD, the division helps about 2,000 individuals in the county.

“Oswego County currently serves 2,037 persons who are enrolled in Medicaid and have either a primary or secondary diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” Kolmsee said.

Pressures related to the holidays this year are being compounded by the pandemic.

“It is safe to assume that anxiety may increase during the holiday season when routines change, and there are pressures related to finances and family,” said Integrative Counseling Services Director Jodi Mullen, Ph.D. “General Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common mental health disorders and the most prevalent of all the anxiety disorders.”

Dr. Mullen told The Palladium-Times in an email that Integrative Counseling Services, located at 5 W. Cayuga St., Oswego, generally receives more referrals toward the end of the year. This year, there could be a rise in diagnosed GAD, she said.

“Typically, we experience a surge in referrals for children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety from November through March,” Mullen said. “This year, our routines have been drastically impacted by the pandemic. I anticipate this instability and inconsistency will result in more people experiencing a diagnosable level of anxiety that they can be impaired by.”

The OCDMH reports that typical stress reactions can include difficulty concentrating, irritability, anger, fatigue, stomachache and sleeping complications, while atypical stress reactions may include constant worrying and significant changes in energy and eating patterns or sleeping problems.

The OCDMH offers some suggestions on how to deal with stress and anxiety this holiday season.

One tip is to manage your information flow by monitoring only a few reliable sources for information. Some sources the OCDMH suggests are: www.ny.gov, www.oswegocounty.com, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or the World Health Organization.

Practicing self-care can be done by exercising regularly both inside and outside, healthy eating, and sleeping an adequate amount every amount.

To go against the feelings of isolation and loneliness, OCDMH suggests reaching out to support networks virtually to strengthen your feeling of being connected to others.

Another tip from the OCDMH is to savor the small, positive moments to stay optimistic and practice being mindful.

Mullen added a few recommendations of her own.

“Be creative about connecting,” Mullen said. “If possible, carry on traditions that you enjoyed even if you have to do them at a smaller scale or virtually. Consider creating new traditions that bring you even a few moments of joy.”

Other health professionals in the county have also offered ideas for handling stress.

Eric Bresee, executive director of Farnham Family Services, reinforced the idea of people connecting with others. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he said. “Seek out a listening ear if needed in friends, family members or support professionals.”

He recommends that you focus on yourself as well as others. “Forgive yourself. Forgive others. We are all learning, and most people are doing the best they can,” Bresee said.

Farnham Family Services is a partner with OCDMH and is one of the leading community facilities for substance abuse and therapeutic services in the county. They have been operating in the county since 1971.

Kolmsee listed some of the factors that can contribute to stress.

“Disruption to routines, traditions, education, and employment, isolation, frequent changes, unpredictability, loss of loved ones, fear of contracting the virus, financial hardships, these are all very significant adverse circumstances which can increase feelings of stress,” Kolmsee said. “Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.”

The OCDMH also lists some state and local resources for people concerned about their mental well-being. Warmlines are free, confidential lines available so people can talk with professionals about coping with stress.

Catholic Charities of Oswego County offers a non-emergency warmline weekdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Call 315-598-3980 and press “0” and ask for a warmline.

Liberty Resources offers a 24/7 non-emergency warmline at 1-855-778-1900.

The New York State COVID-19 Emotional Hotline, also known as “Project Hope,” is a free anonymous phone number from the New York State Office of Mental Health that offers crisis support as people cope with the pandemic. Counselors at this line can be reached daily from 8 a.m to 10 p.m. at 1-844-863-9314.

For more resources and suggestions on how to help yourself or others, visit www.oswegocounty.com/mentalhygiene.

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