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Managing Mental Health During the Holidays

Tips to help you navigate through challenging times

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64 percent of people say they are affected by the “holiday blues,” or experience symptoms of depression and anxiety during this time of year. If symptoms persist through two consecutive seasons, it meets the criteria for Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD), a major depressive disorder that can take place both in the summer and winter. Knowing that depression, anxiety and mood disorders are ranked number one among the top five national health conditions across every county of every state in the U.S., it’s important to keep in mind the symptoms and treatment options for SAD. If you or someone you know is struggling to manage their mental health during the holiday season, consider the different ways to navigate through challenging times.

Be Thankful: When dealing with stress or sadness, take time to focus on the people, experiences and environments in life that make you happiest. Every day, consider writing down three new things to be thankful for or dedicate five minutes to journaling about a meaningful experience. Training the brain to practice positive thinking can be difficult, especially in situations of stress. However, being cognizant of unrealistically negative thoughts and actively replacing them with more realistic and positive thoughts can modify the habit over time.

Consider Professional Help: Whether it’s financial difficulties or the loss of a loved one causing feelings or sadness during the holidays, embrace the opportunity to get professional help. Therapists are trained and dedicated to providing a listening ear and guidance or additional help where it’s needed. It’s important to identify when stress is beyond one’s control and professional help is necessary. Severe, long-lasting symptoms of stress can lead to chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and depression or anxiety.

Establish Boundaries: If certain situations or environments bring on feelings of sadness or anxiety, concentrate on experiences that are positive and comforting. Don’t feel obligated to abide by “normal” holiday arrangements if it generates feelings of stress—for example, if the financial demands of gift-giving are overwhelming, take time to make personalized, homemade presents instead. By prioritizing mental health needs throughout the holidays, individuals are less likely to experience burnout or fatigue.

Focus on Physical Health: Thirty minutes of physical activity every day is a great way to reduce stress and boost energy. Getting up to walk, stand or stretch once or twice every hour can get the blood flowing, ease the mind and improve work performance. Similarly, a balanced diet has a significant impact on mental health. Nutrient-dense foods properly fuel the mind and body.

Take Time to Relax: Taking time to relax can restore emotional well-being, boost critical thinking and reduce the production of stress hormones. Yoga and meditation are great ways to reduce stress and boost mindfulness during the holiday season. Deep breathing can support refocusing energy on positive thoughts and experiences.

Talk About It: When experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety, consider reaching out to a friend or loved one for support. According to the Mental Health Foundation, talking through distress or negative thoughts opens the door to positive change. By acknowledging an unhealthy mental state, you allow yourself to explore solutions and consider opportunities for help.

Watch for Symptoms: It’s important to note the changes in behavior and attitude that occur when an individual is experiencing mental health issues. There could be an underlying problem if someone shows a loss in interest, isolates themselves, displays mood swings or some of the following symptoms that are specific to SAD:

o Seasonal Gloom: Consistently negative moods during the winter and fall seasons specifically

o Fatigue: Cold weather often increases the desire to spend more time in bed, but if the urge intensifies to the point that it impacts the ability to complete daily tasks

o Frequent Hunger: Comfort foods are a staple of the winter months, but it’s important to recognize excessive weight gain during the season or the inability to satisfy hunger on a regular basis

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