How will self care help keep holidays bright?

Like everything else in 2020, the holidays look different this year. And for many, they look a little sadder.

"People are needing a little more help right now than they have in the past," said Melissa Roberts New, clinical director and therapist at Spectrum Behavioral Health in Hinsdale.

"The holidays are probably one of the harder parts of the year," New said.

People turn to mental health professionals to help them deal with the myriad of issues that can arise when days get shorter and families get closer. Add to that list a pandemic, and the need for mental health services skyrockets even higher.

New has seen the number of appointments on her calendar nearly double this year. Thanks to the convenience of telemedicine, New is able to help more than 50 people a week, both in person and virtually.

Of course, not everyone who is feeling the effects of a COVID Christmas will seek the help of a professional. But there are things that everyone can do to help their mental health as they make their way through the holidays.

New said the best tools for good mental health are the simple, everyday things that are easily taken for granted. Proper sleep, regular meals, proper hydration, personal hygiene and exercise all play a big part in keeping our bodies and our minds healthy, New said.

"Try to get 30 minutes of movement a day," she said.

If the gym is closed and it's too cold outside to walk or job, turn on some music and treat yourself to a dance party, New suggests.

Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Set an alarm to wake up at a regular time each morning and start the day with a shower. The routine of showering and getting dressed at the start of each day tells your mind that it's time to go to work, New said.

"It's all the basic self care"," she said.

As for the holidays, New encourages people to create a new tradition this year. If your family plans to gather via Zoom, plan ahead so that everyone is enjoying the same meal or sharing the same activity. Open gifts while on camera so family members can share one another's reactions.

A HDMI cord is a quick way to bring those tiny faces on your computer to life on the big screen. Just attach the computer to a television to see life-size versions of loved ones as you celebrate together, albeit apart.

Along with everything else, winter affects many people in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. The lack of light caused by shorter days can leave people feeling sluggish and unmotivated, but 20 minutes with a full spectrum light box can help, New said. Light boxes can be purchased online or in stores.

And while alcohol is a part of so many holiday celebrations, New warns that this liquid form of cheer actually has the opposite effect.

"It's a natural depressant," New said, and can actually make the situation worse.

Many people will try for months to fix things on their own before reaching out to a professional. New suggests reaching out earlier.

"Asking for help is not failure," she said. "It's saying, 'Help me figure this out so I don't crash and burn.' "

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean