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December 2006: Winter, the Holidays and Your Mood: Finding Balance

01 Dec 2006

The Older Adult Mental Health Unit at Weiss provides a highly specialized and comprehensive geriatric psychiatry service to meet the needs of older adults and their families throughout the Chicago area. A staff of geriatric psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, occupational and physical therapists, and other mental health professionals help patients with a wide range of disorders, such as depression, and including those complicated by medical or neurological conditions.

Winter, the Holidays and Your Mood: Finding Balance During the Dark and Busy Days

Patrick Loney, RN
Program Director
Older Adult Mental Health Unit
Weiss Memorial Hospital
Phone: (773) 564-5700

As we head into the holiday season, many of us become overwhelmed with a wide variety of expectations. We struggle to meet all of the demands of work, family, holiday shopping, parties and other obligations. In addition to the holidays, winter also brings fewer hours of daylight, which can greatly affect our moods and feelings of happiness. Is it any wonder that we may feel overwhelmed this time of year?

First, let us discuss how our minds and bodies respond to the season. With the rapid decrease in light, many of us have feelings of depression. Researchers are now beginning to find that even those who don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (a type of depression triggered by the darkness of winter), experience some depression and anxiety related to the decrease in light. People may also tend to eat and sleep a little more this time of year. What can we do about this? Short of moving to Florida, we can all make an effort to get as much daylight as possible, and try to follow a normal sleep/wake schedule. Additionally, it is important to maintain a healthy diet even though the temptations are certainly there this time of year.

In addition to winter’s darkness, high expectations placed upon us from others and ourselves during the holidaysto be good employees, good family members and good friendscan take a toll on our mental health. Maintaining some balance in our lives can help dissipate feelings of helplessness and anxiety. Here are a few suggestions to help keep you on track during the holidays:

  • Decide what you can and can’t do for others. It’s okay to say no sometimes, particularly when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Take some time for yourself each day. This can be very helpful to decompress after a stressful day. Find what works for you. For some it can be time alone, for others it can be exercise or visiting with a friend.
  • Try to keep a fairly normal sleep routine, although it can be difficult.
  • Similarly, maintain a healthy diet on a daily basis. This can help mood and self esteem as well.
  • Keep a reasonable budget. Overextending your finances can lead to intense anxiety after the holidays.
  • Get a bit of exercise, preferably daily. This doesn’t have to be intense exercise. Simply taking a walk, taking the stairs, or another form of exercise you prefer can pay big dividends in terms of decreasing depression and anxiety, reducing blood pressure, reducing blood glucose and creating an overall sense of control over one’s day.

Ultimately, Benjamin Franklin probably had it right when he said, “everything in moderation.” Winter, and the holidays, can conspire to make the next month or two very difficult for a lot of us. However, if we can maintain a sense of balance through these simple, daily activities, winter and the holidays can be enjoyed to the fullest.

For some, depression and anxiety need more treatment. Up to 20 percent of all Americans, at some point, suffer from depression. If you need to see someone, we recommend that you start with your primary care physician. If you already have a mental health provider, certainly they are the person to see. If you would like more information on depression and anxiety, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has a terrific website. It is www.nami.org. You can learn about the symptoms of major depression, and other illnesses, on that site.

At Weiss Memorial Hospital we have an excellent Older Adult Mental Health Unit, should you or your loved one need further care. We can be reached at (773) 564-5705 with questions or to make an appointment.