Prioritizing mental health this holiday season
UF Health psychologist provides suggestions for those struggling during the winter holidays.
After more than a year and a half living in a pandemic, people are tired and uncertain about the future. Health care workers in particular are experiencing burnout as the pandemic persists. For many, the winter holidays can be a bright light in the darkness, but for others, that may not be the case.
For those experiencing the holiday blues, know that you are not alone. Celebrating the holidays doesn’t need to be done in a traditional way, especially if it affects your mental health negatively. There is no “right way” to celebrate, after all.
David Chesire, PhD, psychologist and director of the Center for Healthy Minds and Practice, or CHaMP, answers common questions and makes suggestions for supporting overall wellness this holiday season.
Question: What causes the “winter blues?”
Answer: People can experience increased sadness or have depressing thoughts during the winter months for a variety of reasons. Shorter days and cooler temperatures can make it difficult to spend time outdoors. The holiday season also carries a lot of potential sources of stress, such as making travel plans and spending more on food and gifts. Also, people who have experienced loss over the past year may be especially sensitive during the holidays when a loved one’s absence is especially missed.
Q: I’m not feeling the joys of the holiday season. Is it OK to opt out of family or friend gatherings? What can I do to support myself and stay positive?
A: It is always permissible to take time off for yourself, and the holidays are no exception. We all need time to decompress and be alone with our thoughts. However, staying connected with others is especially important to ward off feelings of anxiety and depression. It is important to have a strong social support system. Even though it is acceptable to say “no” to group festivities from time to time, it should not become a habit.
Q: My family has different views than I about the pandemic and vaccinations. How can I talk with them calmly and not let it affect me negatively?
A: It is important to make a point of listening without interruption. If you find yourself being interrupted, it is fair to ask for the opportunity to speak without disruption. If conversations get heated, agree to take space from the discussion and focus on something else. It is rare for anyone to change his or her opinion during a heated exchange. In fact, the reverse is often true: People become even more defensive when emotions run high.
Above all else, remember to breathe. Talk slow, keep your tone even, and remember that just because you disagree with someone does not make that person foolish or wrong. Try to understand the opposing point of view, even if you do not change your way of thinking.
Q: How do I know when I need a break from work, family or friends?
A: Some of us are very good at reading our own internal cues. Maybe that includes tightness or breathlessness, headaches, muscle tension, etc. However, many of us may not be good at realizing our body is trying to tell us to slow down and take a break.
The best way to know when it is time to take a break is when the people in our lives express concern. If someone says you look frustrated, or that you seem to be losing your temper more easily, you should trust they are sensing something could be wrong. This is a good sign that a day or two off is in order. It is important to look out for ourselves, and for one another.
Q: I want to talk to someone outside of my circle, but I don’t know where to start and don’t have much free time. What should I do?
A: There are many people to turn to for help. Talking with family and friends is a great way to start, but they may not have all the necessary tools to help. Consider the following resources that can help provide direction during challenging times:
- Employee Assistance Program, or EAP — Our UF Health EAP provides a wide array of services, including access to free community mental health therapists. Call 1-844-216-8397 or visit com/groWeb/login/login.xhtml to set up an account.
- CHaMP — This is a free, unlimited, confidential service that provides mental health counseling and coaching for UF Health Jacksonville, University of Florida Jacksonville Physicians, Inc. and the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville. Sessions can be in person or held virtually. Services include individual, couples and group sessions for any employee or department. For questions or to schedule an appointment, call 904-244-8332 or email CHAMP@jax.ufl.edu.
- Community resources — Many local and national resources offer mental health and spiritual support as well as other public services. Refer to the city of Jacksonville website for local mental health centers or the National Alliance on Mental Illness for education programs and support groups.