Mind Matters: Don’t forget to take care of your mental health this holiday season

Photo by gpointstudio / iStock / Getty Images Plus; St. George News

FEATURE — The holidays can be a time of fun traditions, family gatherings, Christmas lights and decorations, gingerbread houses and doing service for others. There are sappy romance movies, TV specials, hot chocolate and too many sweets.

However, this time of year can also bring family drama, undesired weight gain, fears of spending beyond our means, a reminder of lost loved ones or the desire to keep up with the neighbors across the street.

While many news reports you see this time of year will talk about how to stay fit and maintain your physical health, as part of the Mind Matters series, we’d like to remind you of the importance of keeping tabs on your mental health as well.

Seasonal affective disorder or the “holiday blues”? Or maybe a little of both?

Photo by Kerkez / iStock / Getty Images Plus. St. George News

Even though the acronym for seasonal affective disorder is SAD, it is indeed a recognized form of depression. According to MedicineNet.com, seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically occurs or gets worse during the winter months.

The causes are thought to be from the fact that winter usually brings shorter days and colder weather. As a result, individuals tend to spend more time indoors, subsequently getting less sunlight and physical activity.

As a form of depression, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder may include the following:

  • Tiredness, fatigue or poor sleep.
  • Sadness or a sense of general discontent.
  • Crying spells, irritability or apathy.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Body aches.
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • Decreased activity level and appetite changes, particularly overeating.

In contrast to seasonal affective disorder, the “holiday blues” tend to be caused by unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, excessive commitments and personal comparisons.

Maybe it’s the constant need to buy gifts – not just for family but also best friends, casual acquaintances, neighbors, co-workers, spouse’s co-workers and even the enemy’s dog. Or it could be the expectation for “perfection” at every party, dinner or even just casual gatherings.

Then there’s the annual Christmas cards accompanied with letters detailing trips, accomplishments and general blissfulness when you personally may not be able to boast of the same.

And for those estranged from family members, it can be especially difficult to see photos splattered across Facebook depicting happy reunions between loved ones, only to come home at the end of the day to an empty house where the silence is deadening.

This time of year can be especially brutal to those who lost loved ones, whether from death, divorce, emotional estrangement or physical distance. The holidays can bring a stark reminder of what is gone or what can never be.

If you find yourself in the doldrums this time of year – whether you suspect seasonal affective disorder or just the holiday blues – try some or all of the following for a quick boost.

  • Light or phototherapy – While scientists are unsure of exactly how it works, bright light can change the chemicals in the brain. Getting dressed in warm gear and spending some time outside during daylight hours can do wonders, plus it also helps with Vitamin D production. However, if it’s cloudy or just too cold, light therapy can be done in the comfort of your home using a light box.
  • Exercise –  Even a quick walk around the block during a lunch break can suffice (plus you’ll get some of that light therapy). There are also tons of indoor exercise options and short routines available online and on YouTube.
  • Learn to say “no.” – Overscheduling, overbuying, overeating and trying to meet everyone’s expectations can lead to an emotional breakdown. Say “no” to some things, and be firm in your decision.
  • Get some sleep – With all the plans and obligations, it’s important to try to maintain a consistent bedtime or possibly incorporate a nap at some point during the day if you are planning on going to bed later than usual.
  • Let go of unrealistic expectations – Holding on to a specific image of how the holidays should be can bring unnecessary stress on yourself, your family or friends. Let go of expectations and enjoy the moment.
  • Be open to new traditions – Try something new this year, whether it is doing a holiday 5k, eating ham instead of turkey or going to the movies with family or friends. For a fun twist on a summer favorite, instead of lemonade try setting up a hot chocolate stand (maybe give one to your mail carrier free of charge).

Remember, if you or anyone you know is experiencing severe depression, don’t be afraid to seek help through professional counseling or medication.

Written by HEIDI BAXLEY, Iron County Prevention Coalition coordinator, and LAUREN MCAFEE, Cedar City Library in the Park grant and development officer.

About the “Mind Matters” Series

As the Mind Matters series continues, we will highlight several Southern Utah mental health providers and organizations, as well as success stories, but if you or someone you know is seeking help or resources now, go to the following websites:

If you or someone you know needs helps immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 911. There is help and hope available.

St. George News “Mind Matters” series aims to illuminate how mental illnesses affect society and how to maintain mental health. Articles are contributed by Cedar City Library in the Park in partnership with the Iron County Prevention Coalition and will highlight available resources people may access in Southern Utah and online.

Read more: All the articles in the Mind Matters series

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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