For some people, the holiday season is a time of joy and excitement. For others, this time of year can bring about feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression or anxiety.

Published Dec 20th, 2019

By Nichelle Smith

nsmith@health.southalabama.edu

For some people, the holiday season is a time of joy and excitement. For others, this time of year can bring about feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression or anxiety.

“The holiday season can be difficult for many people,” said Susanna Cheatham, LPC, a clinical counselor in the University of South Alabama department of family medicine. “People can feel very lonely, perhaps more so than at other times of the year. It is paramount that we normalize these experiences to help others understand that they are really not alone.”

Cheatham offers these five tips to beat the holiday blues:

1. Get your Vitamin D

According to Cheatham, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to the change in seasons, is very common. As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, we no longer have enough sunlight to function well. “This can be helped by sitting in front of specialty lights for short amounts of time or by sitting in the sunlight for about 30
minutes a day,” she said.

2. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help

According to Cheatham, people struggling with mental illness in general can feel lonely and isolated and often like they don’t belong. “Ideally, a family member or support person would reach out and check on people who struggle during the holidays because it can be extraordinarily hard to pull oneself up by the bootstraps,” she said. “If you don’t have someone to look out for you and you are struggling, talking with someone such as clergy, a counselor, a helpline like 211, or even online support groups can be helpful.”

3. Utilize your smartphone

Cheatham recommends several apps on your phone that can help you calm anxiety, meditate, and navigate a crisis.

Breathe2Relax can help calm anxiety by using diaphragmatic breathing exercises.

Headspace offers a three-minute guided meditation that can provide a rest in stressful times.

Shine is a meditations and mindfulness app that offers a series of motivations, daily texts, audio clips and longer-
term projects, all of which focus on self-reflection.

4. Prepare for mental flare-ups

Cheatham said that like chronic illnesses, mental illness requires more attention because flare-ups have a direct correlation with increased stress. Preparing family meals, visiting family members and giving time or money can be stressful situations brought on by the holiday season.

“People see commercials for happy family gatherings and intimate times together, which can cause those with mental illness to feel lonely, isolated or as if they don’t belong,” Cheatham said. “For people who have already been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, it is important to continue your medications as you are prescribed.”

5. Focus on self-care

Self-care is very important, but can pose additional challenges when we are in a less than positive place. “There are a lot of expectations placed on people during the holiday season,” she said. “Expectations to attend all family functions, buy gifts for extended family members, and travel to see family can be stressful. For people with mental illness, this becomes almost suffocating. To help combat these feelings, I encourage my patients to give themselves about 15 minutes of focused self-care – such as take a nap, soak in the tub, listen to the birds chirp, read, turn off all electronics and sit in the quiet, read a meditation book, practice mindfulness – each day,” she added.

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