Experts offer advice for those burdened with holiday blues
With the holiday season upon us, the cold, dark days that winter brings, and the social distancing and movement restrictions brought about by COVID-19, it’s not uncommon for people to feel depressed. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Erin Bolling) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEE, Va. – Here’s a question from the Kenner Army Health Clinic staff: “What are you giving yourself this holiday season?”

And there’s a very good reason why they’re asking it.

While it’s typical to associate the seasonal festivities of mid-to-late December as a time of “good tidings, comfort and joy,” that isn’t the case for everyone. Study results reported by trusted wellness websites like healthline.com reveal that roughly 15 percent of Americans experience overwhelming feelings of loneliness, depression, disappointment, stress, grief or disconnectedness during the holidays.

“Sadness is a truly personal feeling,” reads a portion of an article on the website webmd.com. “What makes one person feel sad may not affect (others). Typical sources of holiday sadness include stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial hardship and the inability to be with one’s family and friends.”

In the Fort Lee community, there are young military families and initial entry troops who will spend their first holiday season away from home. There are cadre members who will continue putting in long work hours without much of a break – fulfilling their duty to train and protect the health and welfare of initial entry troops. Some will struggle with the grief of a recently passed-away family member or friend. Worries over troubled relationships, financial difficulty or the continued threat of COVID-19 also are quite capable of stoking the “holiday blues.”

Which brings us to the crux of the original question. Knowing that humans are subject to periodic sadness and depression, what should individuals do for themselves if they’re stuck in a dark tunnel during this season of light?

Dr. Shannon Davis, chief of Behavioral Health at Kenner, offered the following words of advice.

“Instead of looking around at what you may be missing this year, consider what is available and accessible for you,” she said. “That may include going outside for walks or spending time in nature; taking a few moments of mindful awareness throughout your day to decompress; or volunteering some time with an organization such as animal rescue, a food bank or a local faith community.”

Those feeling a sense of isolation can remind themselves they are not truly alone, Davis continued. Taking the time to talk with a friend, a family member, a battle buddy or a skilled counselor is a productive way to sort things out. Considering a different perspective brings the ability to see things possibly overlooked.

“It may be uncomfortable to think about starting that kind of conversation; that moment of becoming vulnerable,” she said. “However, with a quick call or text, you can let someone know that you are having a tough day. That one gesture can go a long way toward feeling better about yourself and your situation.”

Dr. Oluwaronke Awosika from the Occupational Health Clinic at Kenner offered additional advice in a recent document distributed through post-wide email. She recommended starting the day with mind-calming meditation and/or a short energetic workout to invigorate a feeling of wellness. Drinking water to stay hydrated and limiting heavy meals to special occasions also can have a positive impact on mood.

“Limit your drinking!” is a heavily emphasized item on WebMD.com’s list of steps for decreasing holiday blues. Excessive alcohol consumption interrupts one’s ability to think clearly and actually compounds negative feelings.

Other “self-giving” tips offered by the experts include the following:

  • Limit heavy meals to special occasions and avoid sitting on the couch snacking all day. These activities make people feel less energetic and quite often interrupt sleep patterns.
  • Look for opportunities to try something new such as a craft project, an outdoor adventure or visiting a local attraction for the first time.
  • Build feelings of purpose by volunteering to help others.
  • Set realistic goals for holiday activities. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment or guilt by spending too much or trying to create the perfect party or meal.
  • Schedule moments to talk to a friend or family member in-person or on the phone. Just catching up on things happening in everyday life can be mentally cleansing.
  • Take a break from news and social media.

Echoing the emphasis by senior installation leaders for a healthy and safe holiday season, the staff at Kenner Army Health Clinic wants every Team Lee member to know that help is available 24/7 and 365 days a year for any community member who needs it. Outreach assistance includes the Nurse Advice Line at 800-474-2273, option 1; the Emergency Duty Chaplain at 804-734-1584; the National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255 and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 800-662-4357.

Additional reading:

Handling stress and anxiety during the winter holidays

Holiday blues can lead to a season that doesn’t bring good cheer

Depression in the military – and holiday stress, too