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Holiday Mental Health, with Dr. Alfiee

Holiday Mental Health, with Dr. Alfiee

Navigating overwhelm, and how to support loved ones experiencing depression during the holiday season.

December 21, 2021 by Clevr ft. Dr. Alfiee

 

As a wellness company, mental wellness is more than a priority; it's essential. Our SuperLattes are packed with ingredients which support your mental wellness, but beyond that, we believe that the conversation of mental health is vital to create community, raise awareness, offer support and validate experiences.

The holiday season can be a time of joy and community, but it is also often interwoven with heightened stress, loneliness and overwhelm. We talked to Dr. Alfiee to share her expertise on how to navigate mental wellness during the holidays. Dr. Alfiee is an internationally recognized scientist, author, speaker and media contributor, who translates complex scientific concepts into useful, everyday language. We are so grateful for the opportunity to share her knowledge with you today, and our hope is that it offers support and reminds you that you're not alone.

    Q:

    How does heightened stress during the holidays affect mental health?

    A:

    We are often so busy with planning for the holidays that we forget to pay attention to our own needs. So much of the messaging surrounding the holidays speaks to caring for others that we forget we need to care for ourselves. These circumstances are often a breeding ground for stress, which is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors.” During the holiday season, we clearly encounter many stressors, so it is to be expected that we would experience heightened stress during this time of year. Unchecked stress can exacerbate pre-existing depression, anxiety and unresolved trauma, so it is critical that we attend to our mental health needs at this time.

    Q:

    The holiday season is stereotypically seen as a time of "love, cheer and joy" but many people experience less of these emotions during this time, and feel very alone. What are some ways to navigate this, and do you have resources you can share?

    A:

    Loneliness and negative/difficult emotions during the holiday season are common, though we do not often hear such negative feelings discussed publicly. This lack of public attention to mental health during the holiday season can leave many feeling alone in their struggles. Therefore, it is important for us to acknowledge our feelings and find strategies to manage them. Some examples of things I recommend include exercise, meditation, good sleep hygiene (because fatigue exacerbates stress), practicing mindfulness (by always working to stay present), journaling and leaning on a trusted friend or loved one.

    Q:

    If someone is experiencing depression during the holidays, what are some practical steps you’d advise to support them?

    A:

    The best thing we can do for a loved one experiencing depression is to let them know that we are available to listen and offer support. This entails speaking directly to the person we care for to remind them that we love them, we care for them, and we want to be present in the ways that they need us. Then we must be patient and allow the loved one space to come to us (if they wish), on their own terms. We cannot dictate when and how our loved one (who might be struggling), engages with us even when we only want to help.

    Q:

    Setting clear boundaries for ourselves within our families is important during the holidays. What are a few strategies that you recommend?

    A:

    Gaining clarity about your needs BEFORE you engage with family during the holidays is key. First, be clear with yourself about the specific boundaries you need to set. Are there certain topics that you refuse to discuss under any circumstances? Are there certain family members who make you uncomfortable? Secondly, set realistic expectations for engaging with family members. Sometimes we convince ourselves that family members should know and understand us better than others just because we are family, and that is often an unfair assumption to make. Remember to maintain open lines of communication and express your needs. Another helpful strategy is to enlist the help of someone you trust, like a buddy system. For example, if you are LGBTQ and have a homophobic family member, connect with another family member you trust to help you avoid uncomfortable conversations with that person. Lastly and most importantly, TAKE BREAKS! Find time to be alone, breathe and clear your head so that you can be more present for the loved ones in your life during the holidays.

    Q:

    What other resources do you suggest for additional support during the holiday season?

    A:

    Use your screen time to support yourself. Find apps that offer uplifting messages, seek out online resources that offer tips and strategies (www.aakomaproject.org is one), find exercise or meditation videos on YouTube to guide you through activities that allow you to take a break.

    Q:

    The changing of seasons, including shorter days, less sunlight and colder temperatures also plays a role in our mental wellbeing. Can you talk about what this does to our brains and nervous systems, and how we can support our bodies and minds to bring them back into balance?

    A:

    SAD is a type of depression associated with the change in seasons. For people experiencing SAD (or even those who do not meet clinical criteria) symptoms often arise in the fall and persist through the winter, making it difficult to regulate emotions.⁠ Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:⁠ feeling depressed (most of the day) nearly every day⁠, losing interest in activities once enjoyed, low energy⁠, sleeping challenges, appetite or weight⁠ changes, and difficulty concentrating⁠. It is important to note that prevention is key, but here are some practices to support people experiencing SAD: get as much natural sunlight as possible, exercise, connect with trusted loved ones for support, and add foods rich in helpful vitamins to your diet (e.g. B-Vitamins and Vitamin D)

    Hannah Mendoza
    Author

    Clevr ft. Dr. Alfiee

    Dr. Alfiee is an internationally recognized scientist, author, speaker and media contributor, who translates complex scientific concepts into useful, everyday language.