During the winter months, especially leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and into the new year, there is an unspoken expectation or pressure to be cheery, jolly, and merry. Sometimes finding your excitement for the holidays may be harder than finding any of the hundreds of delayed packages floating on a barge in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There is pressure to go all out with decorating, spending money (whether you have it or not), being together with family, going to social events, and so on and so forth. Some years, you may not even notice the pressure; it may not even bother you most years and you look forward to the hustle and bustle.
What if… this year you are struggling to find that internal comfort and joy brought on by the holidays?
What if finances are just too tight to feel like you can contribute to the magic of the holidays or maybe you feel as if you are letting someone down by not being able to give them a gift at all?
What if your family relationships are strained, toxic, and are a constant battle for standing firm in your personal boundaries that keep you, your mental health, and your environment safe?
What if you lost a loved one this year making the holidays feel different and that ache makes it harder to celebrate the season?
What if you are experiencing an overall depressed mood and maybe just can’t pinpoint why it is harder this year than in years past?
All of the aforementioned things can definitely play a negative role on our mental health and as a result, our self-care takes a back seat to the never-ending checklist of things we “have” to do or “should” be doing. This is a gentle reminder to stop “shoulding” on yourself. Allow yourself grace and compassion to not go through the motions if it doesn’t bring you joy. Forgive yourself for “not feeling it” because it is okay to not be okay – whether it be during the holidays or beyond. Give yourself permission to do what is best for you and your mental health. THAT is the most important gift to give yourself and the ones you love; take care of you first.
If you are concerned about your overall mental health and are finding that during the holiday months you are seeing a pattern of depressive symptoms, it could mean something a little more. It is this time of year that many people experience the “Winter Blues,” or Seasonal Depression - sometimes referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD, for short.) It is more likely to occur every year around the same time; winter. There are many hypotheses as to why SAD comes with the colder months – shorter daylight hours being the main culprit. Often times, depending where you live, we go to work in the dark, sit in our offices all day, and then drive home in the dark. This leaves our Vitamin D supply (which we get naturally from the sunlight) almost depleted. Fun fact – Vitamin D from sunlight increases the brain’s release of serotonin which is the mood-boosting, calming, positive and natural anti-depressant.
What are depressive symptoms and how are they different than just having a “bad day?” According to www.mentalhealth.gov, there are many other symptoms common with SAD which are parallel to depression such as loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy, fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, not eating at all or eating too much, and thoughts of death or suicide. Although these symptoms may subside on their own come spring, there are things you can do to feel better now.
For SAD, light therapy is recommended. The Mayo Clinic has a great resource for which light therapy works best, when to use it, and why it’s effective. You can find out more about that by clicking this link: Mayo Clinic. Another option would be to speak with your general physician about possibly starting an anti-depressant regimen. Other helpful tips are:
Stick to normal routines as much as possible
Get enough sleep
Take time for yourself and do things you enjoy (but be careful not to isolate)
Keep your therapy appointments
Eat and drink in moderation
Get exercise (even short walks)
Make a to-do list, and try to keep it simple
Set a budget for holiday activities
Set reasonable expectations for holiday activities, prioritize your time, and you may need to say no
Coping through the holidays does not have to be a struggle. Talking about your mental health with those you love can help reduce the risk of suicidal ideations and alleviate feelings of hopelessness. You will not be considered a “burden” when you find a safe person to talk to; chances are, they will be more than happy to help you in your time of need because they love you. They will be relieved that you opened up to them instead of bottling emotions up.
When looking for help, we have compiled a list of local and national resources.
Southeast Utah Health Department and the Suicide Prevention Specialist, Amanda McIntosh are great resources for mental health connections in Southeast Utah. Amanda is also affiliated with the HOPE Squad of Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties found on Facebook here. Amanda is on the Board for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and has connections statewide.
Four Corners Community Behavioral Health is the local mental health authority for Carbon, Emery, and Grand Counties. They work with the three counties offering highly responsive and effective mental health for all. They also have resources for substance use.
LiveOn Utah is Utah’s one-stop-shop for everything suicide prevention related. All of the following resources are listed on this website.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - Utah has great resources on how to talk to our loved ones about suicide, how to support those who have lost someone to suicide, and listing the plethora or symptoms that are associated with depression and other mental health disorders. They are also a wonderful resource for our LGBTQ community.
NAMI-Utah are strong advocates for individuals and families experiencing mental health issues in Utah. They provide excellent support groups both virtually and in-person.
The Trevor Project is an incredible resource for the LGBTQ community with support for sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health and much more.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Utah Crisis Line is available 24-7 simply by chatting to a live representative on the website, calling 1-800-273-8255, or by texting “Home” to 741741.
There are also many free apps you can download on your phone.
Virtual Hope Box app offers positive distractions, motivational quotes and imagery, relaxation techniques, and coping tools to manage high-stress situations.
myStrenth app is designed to find mental health support that fits your individual needs. After taking a brief online assessment, the app guides you through a plethora of information and support at your fingertips.
Ambience is a sound machine app for those times you need to relax, focus, tune out and concentrate on breathing. It is great to use for mindfulness training as well.
According to NAMI Utah’s Executive Director Rob Wesemann, more than half of Utah residents report experiencing the “Holiday Blues.” It is not as uncommon as people may think it is. By talking about our mental health, we help to reduce the stigma and taboo surrounding help-seeking behaviors. This ultimately could mean the difference between life and death. Talk with your loved ones - whether you are the one experiencing SAD or you believe a loved one is experiencing symptoms of SAD. Please know that you are not alone and there are resources available to fit any need.