Coping With The Holidays

 Coping With The Holidays

Photo by Dan Guarino

By Dan Guarino

With holiday celebrations in the air, all may seem merry and bright this time of year. But for many, this season of light may be tinged with deep shadows.

Mental health professionals note it is not uncommon for many of us to face challenges and extra stresses at what we assume “should” be a festive time for all. In fact, it can often be, they acknowledge, one of the hardest seasons to get through for many.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which often occurs as fall and winter roll in. Its feelings of loneliness, sadness, fatigue, tension, and a sense of loss can be intensified during the holiday season.

St. John’s Michael Robinson, LMSW

Last year Psychology Today reported it was “estimated to affect 10 million Americans.”  An American Psychiatric Association poll found “31% of adults say they expect to feel more stressed this upcoming holiday season compared to last”- a 9% jump from 2021, a peak Covid pandemic year.

Reaching out to help Rockaway’s residents deal with these issues here at home, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital’s (SJEH) Employee Health Specialist Michael Robinson recently led a discussion on “Conquering the Winter Blues – Managing Holiday and Seasonal Depression” at St. John’s medical practice on Rockaway Beach Blvd. at Beach 105th St.

Robinson, a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) and career mental health specialist, has been with SJEH for two and a half years. As their health and wellness specialist, he provides for the internal counseling and support needs for the entire staff, with, among other things, a “Recharge Room” designed to help their workforce de-stress 24/7. “We are a small community hospital and it can be very stressful,” he says.

“I also provide counseling services directly for our team members, if they have any issues, are in crisis or need support. We also provide information they can in turn bring out to the community.”

Robinson and St. John’s are very familiar with mental health and seasonal depression in their work. “There are a few different reasons (SAD occurs). They stem from a lot of the things we usually take comfort from. The shopping, the putting on a good production. There’s a lot of expectations on people. And it’s something that you only do once a year, so we put a lot on it.

“One of the big issues is you’re not taking care of yourself. Taking the time to rest, eat healthy. People lose sleep. There’s a lot of wear and tear on them. Your life situations may have changed, your financial situations can be stressful. You don’t want to let people down.”

Robinson says he has found one interesting connection with seasonal depression. “It usually starts around Halloween time, when the commercials start. This year I started speaking with people a lot earlier, because the commercials started earlier…as early as end of September. A lot of times it’s about the money people will think about they’ll have to spend. That’s buying gifts, the clothes.”

Additionally, “You may have a loved one that passed away. You may have gotten ill. And it may have happened around the holidays. These are things that come up for people. Folks feel guilty if they’re having a good time because that loved one is not there, or something tragic happened.”

Those already struggling with health, mental health or drug or alcohol issues have an increased burden often at this time of year.

A diagnosis of SAD, he confirms, should be done by a mental health professional. “I commend social media, etc. for getting information out to people. But a lot of times you need to talk to people directly, observe them and see what they individu­ally need.”

We all go through occasional highs and lows, he notes. But how can you tell if you might need to seek further help?

For one thing “you want to look and see if you’re (unusually) sad. To take this time for yourself…and ask yourself, am I sad? More than usual? Or am I more irritable right now? Or really feeling fatigued?”

“If you’re tired you might feel you want to get to bed. But fatigued is the feeling that you’re not motivated to even get up and get out.”

“Or if you find you’re crying,” he says. “Crying happens. If you’re watching a movie, reading cards.” But if you find yourself really crying, sobbing, for no apparent reason, just out of the blue, that may be a key.

Also “Lack of energy.” You don’t have the energy to do the things you have to do. There is also “weight gain. That’s one thing more during the holidays. There’s a lots of food. If you’re eating more than usual, you might ask yourself (about that) as well.”

You may have “underlying issues, heart issues, etc. and you’re really feeling it more at the holidays. You’re facing your own mortality. Also if you’re dealing with substance abuse and all the things that happen around that. It makes it even harder.”

What can you do? “Number one, if you’re feeling depressed, you should go and seek help from a professional. Especially if it’s someone who does not know you in any way, so you can feel comfortable. And set realistic goals in terms of getting help.”

Also put “necessary self-care (at the) top of your list of things to do for yourself. Do things that make you happy. Doing a craft, just listening to music. Find something…that’s made you happy throughout the year and do that.”

Though it may be hard, let your family and friends help you. They may be more supportive, and less judgmental, than you think.

Most of all “be aware that you will get out of this. Your mood will change, but it will take time. It may not happen right away. But know that you will get out of it.”

And, Robinson underscores, know that St. John’s and other city agencies are ready to help you. Often with services that are no-cost. He even offers his own number, 718-869-7236, to call at any time.

Struggling with the season? You don’t have to struggle alone.

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