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A Mental Health Expert’s Plan to Battle Her Holiday Blues

by THINK Capital Blue Cross

A Mental Health Expert’s Plan to Battle Her Holiday Blues

Having spent decades as a psychotherapist, Karie Batzler knows all about the sadness that engulfs some people during the holidays. This year, her own string of recent losses and challenges will put her skills to the test.

Karie Batzler isn’t exactly savoring this holiday season.

For starters, it will be her first without her sister, Judy, who died Aug. 7 in a house fire.

“It was incomprehensible,” recalled Batzler, director of behavioral health at Capital Blue Cross. “I had just spoken with her the night before, making plans for a visit. It was such an incredible shock that it didn’t feel like it was possible. Judy was the most generous, kindhearted person I’ve ever met.”

Judy’s loss isn’t the only emotional struggle Batzler faces this holiday season. Her niece, Judy’s daughter, lost her battle with alcoholism in 2021. In addition, she and her family are dealing with serious medical issues.

Karie Batzler.

As so many do this time of year, Batzler must cope with the compounded challenge that comes when acute loss, grief, or sadness collides with what’s supposed to be a joyous season. But Batzler can take something from her coping toolbox most people cannot: She’s spent decades as a psychotherapist.

“One of the things about being a behavioral health professional,” she said, “is it helps me understand that I’m NOT going to be OK. I’m not expecting to walk through my everyday life in the same way that I did before my sister passed.”

‘Tis the Season

It’s hardly “the happiest season of all” for everyone.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with a diagnosed behavioral health condition say the holidays make things worse. And the American Psychological Association says that 38% reported higher stress levels when the holidays hit.

Batzler said acknowledging your sadness, rather than avoiding it, is critical to coping with holiday depression.

“People worry that if they give into the sadness and let themselves sink into it more deeply, they’ll go too far into the sadness to come back from it,” she said. “Avoiding the feelings doesn’t work. The feeling will find a way to resurface, often when you least expect it. Making time and space for your emotions and leaning into the grief allows you to acknowledge and work through it.”

Additional Coping Advice

Batzler also urges people to schedule time to talk about their sadness with loved ones, friends, or a behavioral health professional.

“Be with other people,” she said. “That makes a big difference.”

She suggests those with diagnosed behavioral health conditions pre-assess their holiday needs by talking to their provider about the possibility of adjusting medications or therapy sessions during the holidays.

Other coping suggestions include:

  • Begin a new tradition – Perhaps plan a family outing or vacation, instead of staying home.
  • Don’t succumb to the season’s pressures – It’s OK to limit uncomfortable social events. Sometimes smaller holiday gatherings feel more manageable.
  • Volunteer – Helping others can be uplifting.
  • Immerse yourself in nature – A walk, run, or drive in the woods or a park can work wonders.

Batzler said Capital Blue Cross helps its members cope with the holiday blues via its Virtual Care telehealth option and a behavioral health toolkit for certain employers. Capital also can connect you to a behavioral health professional online, or by calling 866.322.1657.

Karie’s Plan

Following her own advice during this year’s holidays, Batzler intends to lean into her pain.

“My plan is to tell my sister’s story,” Batzler said. “To reminisce with others. To wear Judy’s perfume, display things she loved, and sing her favorite song. To bring her with me, instead of leaving her behind.”

“It’s bittersweet, but it also can be comforting to remember those times, or to hear that song or wear that scarf. I’m carrying a little bit of her forward into the future.”

THINK (Trusted Health Information, News, and Knowledge) is a community publication of Capital Blue Cross. Our mission is to provide education, resources, and news on the latest health and insurance issues.