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Mental health, seasonal depression, and the holidays: A resource guide 

Mental health
Alex Green
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According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people struggle with stress around the holidays, which could lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Health found that 64% of people living with mental health issues feel that their condition is worsened during the holiday season. Although seasonal affective disorder, or seasonal depression, may play a role in the spike of mental health issues around the holidays, financial pressure, family gatherings, grief, social unrest, and a host of other elements may also contribute.

While there are numerous resources and remedies available to help with mental health, some people find that holistic, alternative, or low cost methods are more effective than traditional counseling. Holistic lifestyle clinics, such as Empathic Practice in Pensacola, focus on stress management through a number of services, including support groups, one-on-one counseling, acupuncture, massage therapy, and more.

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Empathic Practice
Felipe Muñoz

“Seasonal depression is really big during the winter, even though we’re living in Florida where we have a more mild winter,” said Felipe Muñoz, CEO and co-founder of Empathic Practice. “People still feel the toll of what is a change in weather, and the end of the year brings people to reflect and review what happened throughout the year. There’s a lot of grief around the holidays, too.”

While seasonal depression, anxiety, grief, or other mental health issues may affect you or those you love around the holidays, there are ways you can cope in a healthy manner. Here are a few methods you can follow to improve your mental health this holiday season.

Go outside 

The holiday season means that significantly less sunlight shines in the northern hemisphere. That said, it is important to get as much exposure to sunlight as possible during the winter months. Exposure to sunlight can not only boost your mood but can regulate your sleep cycle.

“If you’re going to do a self-guided reflection, the best way to do that is to go outside,” Muñoz said. “Regardless of how the weather is, finding joy in exploring and being curious with the outdoors is going to be one of the best reliefs for depression.”

If sunlight is not readily available, light therapy is a good alternative. Muñoz says that motivation, regardless of the season, is key to improving mental health.

“Sometimes it's hard to just get out of bed and motivate yourself, but once you can find the perspective of interacting with the nature around you, you can find so much that engages your hormones in ways that will make you feel more mindful of where you are in life,” Muñoz said. “You can see a positive outcome.”

Journal your thoughts

There are many benefits to journaling, and these benefits are valuable around the holidays. Journaling can help reduce stress, promote mindfulness, track growth and progress, and increase self-confidence. Munoz suggests that you should journal not only about the negatives in your life but also the positives.

“Really try to pose the question of what is positive in this moment you are living,” Muñoz said. “That can be thoughts of gratitude or shifting perspectives by going through those moments.”

Journaling also helps to sort out emotions, acknowledge problems you are struggling with, and find solutions. This can be incredibly beneficial around the holidays.

“When we are feeling these lows, we can see things from a different perspective, which can help you look at where you want to go next,” Muñoz said.

While journaling is good for mental health, it can also boost memory, heighten academic performance, and improve critical thinking skills.

Get out of your comfort zone 

When it comes to seasonal depression and mental health issues, one of the easiest changes you can make is change itself. Although it may seem easier to stay in bed or stick to your usual routine, in the long run, constantly doing what’s comfortable or familiar can prevent growth and hinder your mood.

“Something that immediately can change anyone’s mood or perspective is changing your tradition and starting a new one,” Muñoz said.

Trying something new can give you the motivation to do more for yourself. Making a change can be something as small as listening to new music or as adventurous as taking a weekly cold water plunge at the beach.

“Bringing new traditions that you can start today will be something that can motivate you,” Muñoz said. “It will help you see not only the beauty and the awe of these things, but you will force yourself to leave your comfort zone, which is most likely perpetuating this depressive state of mind.”

Prioritize your personal needs

Above all, it is important to prioritize your personal needs during the holiday season. Focusing on your physical, mental, and spiritual needs will not only improve your mood but also your mental health. There are many ways you can focus on your personal needs around the holidays:

  • Exercise and maintain a healthy diet (this can boost energy levels!)
  • Stay connected to the people that are important in your life, either virtually or in-person
  • Decrease isolation from other people 
  • Adopt and follow a self-care routine
  • Remind yourself of the people, places, or things that make you happy 
  • Do the things that bring you joy!

If you are struggling mentally this holiday season, always remember that you are not forced to celebrate the holidays; your mental health is more important. It is also important to remember that through this journey, you are not alone. For those who need it, therapy is always an option. There are resources at the bottom of this story for those who are struggling with their mental health.
“This is not a time to retreat, but to hone in energies we can use when the spring comes so we can flourish,” Muñoz said.

Empathic Practice offers several holistic services to those who are struggling with their mental health. Services, such as men’s and women’s circles, support groups, and meditation classes are free and open to the public. For more information about what services are available, click here. The Lakeview Center also provides an array of mental health services to the Pensacola community.

“As a community, we can be together, and work towards a better perspective of life and ourselves with people who are looking for the same thing,” Muñoz said. “We provide a safe space where people can come as they are and just talk about their perspective in life and what they are going through. We’re here for all, and all are welcome.”

If you or someone you know is struggling or experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. If you or someone you know is looking for mental health resources and services, dial 211. You can also view the mental health resources below.

Other resources for help:

FindTreatment.gov

211.org

Hope for Healing Florida

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Find Treatment

Holiday Depression - Healthline

Stress, Depression, and the Holidays: Tips for Coping - Mayo Clinic

79 Resources for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

McClean’s Guide to Managing Mental Health Around the Holidays 

Online Therapy - Help find a therapist near you

BetterHealth Online Therapy

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.