December 13, 2023 Healthy Living

Give Yourself the Gift of Good Mental Health

The holidays can be a magical time of year and often conjure up images of sparkling trees, falling snow, and families gathered to exchange meals, gifts, and pleasantries. But for the millions of Americans suffering with mental illness, the holidays can be anything but the most wonderful time of the year.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 65 percent of Americans living with mental health disorders say their conditions worsen around the holidays, and about 40 percent of people say holiday-related stress has led to depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

Whether you’re spending your first holiday season alone, struggling to make ends meet, or just feeling pressured to fit into social norms, the holidays can be a period of great stress and deep grief.

To make matters worse, the holidays are also coupled with shorter, colder, darker days. Less exposure to natural light can lead to new or increased symptoms of depression. The American Academy of Family Physicians says as many as 20 percent of people experience mild symptoms of seasonal affective disorder – or SAD – and about 5 percent of the population suffers from severe winter depression.

Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the colder temps this time of year (or the chilly reception you may get from your in-laws at Christmas dinner) but there are ways to set yourself up for a less stressful holiday season.

Don’t overcommit to social gatherings, gift giving, or other holiday traditions. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle, but if it’s not for you or you’d rather sit this one out, politely decline.

Avoid isolation. If you’re living alone or have small social network, it’s doubly important to make sure you’re connecting with others. Local churches, community and senior centers, and volunteer groups offer a convenient way to get together with people, even if just for a few hours a week.

Get exercise. The shorter, darker days make it difficult to stay active. It’s important to create a consistent workout routine that keeps you moving. Even if it’s just an afternoon walk or series of stretches in the morning, make a schedule and stick to it.

Avoid overeating. There’s no shortage of treats, sweets, and other indulgent meals this time of year. It’s okay to indulge on occasion but overdoing it will leave you feeling sluggish and could lead to unintended weight gain. Be sure to monitor your calorie intake and balance your diet with nutritious foods that provide the energy you need to power through the season.

Limit alcohol. If the added stress of the holidays has you reaching for an extra glass of wine (or two), it may be time to rethink your coping strategies. Drinking alcohol may provide upfront relief but it’s only short term and can lead to long-term problems. If you’re feeling the urge to have a drink, consider going for a walk or run, calling a friend, or meditating.

These are just some of the many steps you can take to set boundaries this holiday season, and hopefully reduce your level of stress. If these simple behavior changes aren’t enough to boost your spirits, it may be time to get help.

CDPHP and many other health plans offer a wide variety of options when it comes to treating mental health and substance use disorders. If you’re struggling, give your health insurer a call to discuss your options. At CDPHP, our in-house team of trained mental health care experts understands what you’re going through and can point you in the right direction. Most insurers also have an afterhours crisis line which can assist outside normal business hours.

If it’s not an emergency and you’d like to schedule an appointment with a therapist in your community, CDPHP or another health plan can help you find a provider that’s both close to home or the office and accepting new patients. Many local therapists now offer virtual mental health care options, meaning you can meet with your clinician over the phone, laptop, or computer. In addition, CDPHP offers virtual mental health care services with the following:

  • aptihealth provides virtual mental health care services for adults and adolescents ages 12 and up and specializes in the treatment of mild to severe and persistent mental illness. aptihealth is able to see patients within 48 hours.
  • Doctor On Demand provides virtual mental health care services for children, adolescents, and adults and specializes in anxiety, depression, postpartum, relationships, trauma, and loss. Doctor On Demand is able to see patients with 48 hours.
  • Valera Health provides virtual mental health care services for children, adolescents, and adults and specializes in culturally competent care, including mental health care services for LGBTQ patients. Valera Health is able to see patients within one week of an initial consultation.

It’s not always easy to accept the fact that you need help, or to reach out for help, especially during the holidays when we’re “supposed to” feel merry and bright. But if you are in need of help, give yourself a gift that will last a lifetime and commit to investing in your mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Dr. Joshua Kaufman
About the Author

Joshua Kaufman, MD, currently serves as Medical Director for Behavioral Health and Medical Integration. In this role, Dr. Kaufman provides physician leadership to ensure the mental and physical health needs of CDPHP members are addressed and optimized. Dr. Kaufman is a native New Yorker and is double board certified in Adult General Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry.

4 Responses to “Give Yourself the Gift of Good Mental Health”

  1. Christine J Baxter

    Wonderful advice about Mental Wellness with statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness which you have always been a great supporter of. I am surprised that you did not also let your members know about the wealth of resources, educational materials and information about free support groups and classes that the local NAMI affiliates and the NAMI New York State Chapter can direct your members to?
    Hopefully you will write about Mental Health again for Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
    Thanks for the great work you do.
    Christine Baxter NAMI Capital Region NY

    • Dr. Joshua Kaufman

      Hi Christine. Indeed! We are proud of our long-standing partnership with NAMI. Thanks for the suggestions to dive further into this topic and highlight the resources available to our local members. We will keep these in mind the next time we cover this topic.

  2. chaz Lott

    Looking to speak about relationship issues.

    • Dr. Joshua Kaufman

      Hi Chaz. We would be happy to help you find support. Please call our Behavioral Health Access Center at 1-888-320-9584 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and someone from our care team can help point you in the right direction.

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