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’Tis the Season to be Mindful of Mental Health

John Lauriello, MD

John Lauriello, MD

The holidays can be a joyful time, but for some, they might not seem quite as merry. A hectic calendar and stretched finances could be to blame, but the winter season itself can also prove to be more difficult.

“In general, we do know that winter is tougher on people because of the weather and lack of sunlight,” said John Lauriello, MD, chair of psychiatry and medical director of the Missouri Psychiatric Center at the University of Missouri. “Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between holiday-related stress and the seasonal component because they are happening concurrently.”

Think about the kinds of events that trigger stress for you during the holidays. Then you can focus on one or two things you can do that will help the most to reduce stress.

Here are some ideas:

Know your limits

Lack of money is one of the biggest causes of stress during the holiday season. This year, set a budget, and don't spend more than you've planned.

Be realistic

Try not to put pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your family. Focus instead on the traditions that make holidays special for you. And remember that just because it's a holiday, family problems don't go away. If you have a hard time being around your relatives, it's okay to set limits on your time at events and visits.

Be mindful of temptations

“This is a time of year where there are a lot of festivities and people may be tempted to overindulge,” Lauriello said. “Limiting your alcohol intake or being reasonable with it will be helpful to you in terms of your mood.” Lauriello said for people who struggle with addictions, this is also a time of year when temptation can be greater.

Talk it out

“For some people, the holidays are a rallying point and their mental health actually improves,” Lauriello said. “For others, the holidays are worse.” If you are in treatment it is important to tell your therapist or doctor how the holidays affect you, Lauriello said. If you are not currently getting mental health care, and you think the holidays adversely affect you, talk to your primary care practitioner. If it is severe, seek out your local emergency room.

Find Light

Your mood might be affected by the lack of sunlight during this time of year. “We recommend many times for people who experience a seasonal component to their mental health that they purchase a light box to boost their mood,” Lauriello said.

Take breaks

Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Spend a little time by yourself if you can. Meditate, or do some relaxation breathing. Go for a short walk.

Want to learn more about depression and its symptoms? Visit this interactive tool in the MU Health and Wellness Library.

Interactive Tools

Want to learn more about depression and its symptoms? Visit this interactive tool in the MU Health and Wellness Library.