Surviving the Holidays: Mental Health Tips and Tricks

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Surviving the Holidays:  Mental Health Tips and Tricks

The holidays are upon us and with them come unique stressors not felt as fully during the rest of the year. Many of us will travel, eat and stress more than usual as we make our rounds in the coming weeks.  These elements, combined with the winter blues that many experience, can elicit a feeling akin to being placed in a winter wonderland pressure cooker for the next month or so.  Here are some tips to help you survive the season with as much mental health intact as possible.

Holidays aside, this time of year can bring about physiological changes that can add to the weight of the season.  Winter means significantly less exposure to natural light, which can result in a diminished amount of Vitamin D.  What does Vitamin D mean for you?   In one word: energy!  (Ok, so your vitamin D level actually means a great deal more than just energy, as it is associated with bone density and some research suggests healthy levels can provide protective factors for hypertension, diabetes and possibly some types of cancer.  Here, however, we’re looking only at energy levels and how they relate to mental health.)  One recent study found that over 41% of participants were low in Vitamin D¹, which makes sense since many of us get very little exposure to the sun, especially throughout the winter.  If you are like me and work in a windowless office (read: shoebox, peanut gallery, etc.) all day, you are even more screwed.  This can take a real toll on your energy level and leave you feeling exhausted, de-motivated and sometimes a little blue with no idea why you feel this way. 

The good news is your primary medical provider can run a simple lab test to check your Vitamin D levels to determine if they're low.  If you are low or Vitamin D deficient the fix is a once daily dose of vitamins and you should feel a difference almost immediately.  Vitamin D deficiency is fairly common during winter months and most folks need only to supplement part of the year, as their body naturally regulates during the spring, summer and fall months when natural light is more abundant.

Another common culprit for the winter blues can be a legitimate mental health diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  The effects of this disorder are serious, but are often glossed over or dismissed.  Symptoms can include feelings of anxiety, depression, fatigue, over-eating and/or social isolation, etc.   If any of these symptoms resonate