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Auburn professor gives advice for avoiding holiday blues, maintaining mental health

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The holidays are a festive time where people come together to worship, give thanks and celebrate life, but it can also be a challenging time for many. Whether it’s remembering those who have lost or amplifying stressful interactions with family and friends, holiday blues are an unfortunate reality for countless people.

Auburn Jordan Porco MakatiHe is a clinical assistant professor at Department of Psychological Sciences, offers advice for anyone who may struggle with mental health during the holidays. They also provide plenty of resources and highlight ways in which those who may need help can get the help they need in this edition of Expert Answers.

Maintaining positive mental health is always important, but it is especially important during the holidays, when many people struggle with depression. What are some good ways for people to keep their spirits high and focus on the positivity during the holidays?

While the holidays can be a fun time, they can also be a difficult time for many. Feelings of sadness, grief, or loneliness can be particularly affected during this time of year. Simply trying to suppress those difficult feelings is not effective, and it is important to acknowledge and validate their existence. It’s normal and natural to feel a range of emotions, and it can be helpful to find ways to express them, such as writing a diary or talking to someone you trust. Recognizing these difficult feelings and engaging in healthy coping strategies can help improve your mood.

Depression is often associated with negative thinking patterns. One way to change this way of thinking is to engage in regular gratitude practice, which has been shown to improve mood over time. Gratitude involves intentionally thinking about the positive aspects of one’s life and can be a powerful tool in reframing the way we think about things. Try to write down 1-3 things you are grateful for each day.

Research also shows that maintaining a consistent routine and engaging in enjoyable activities is important for a positive mood. While one perk of the holiday season is time off from work or school, switching from a regular daily routine to a lack of routine can be challenging. Maintaining a flexible routine, including when you wake up and go to bed, exercise and when you rest, can be helpful. To give yourself something to look forward to, try to purposefully limit at least one fun activity per day.

Finally, while it can be great to see what our friends and family are up to this time of year on social media, it often leads us to feel left out or compare ourselves to others in an unhelpful way. Remind yourself that what is shown on social media often has positive points and know that there is likely a lot that you don’t see. If you notice that scrolling through your social media feed is not serving your mood in a positive way, practice setting limits on how much you use these platforms.

Vacations are a lonely time for some people. What are some good ways they can engage with others to avoid isolation and feelings of depression?

Maintaining social connections can be a powerful way to improve your mood. Volunteering with local organizations is one way to combine kindness and staying connected. Organizations that provide or provide meals, youth services, hospitals, nursing homes, and many other organizations may be looking for volunteers. Animal shelters may also need helpers to play, exercise, or bathe the animals. Spending time with these furry friends can improve the mood, too.

For those considered religious or spiritual, enjoying religious events or gatherings during this time can foster feelings of connection with others who have similar values. Supporting others who may also feel isolated during this time of year can help. Consider writing cards for service members or those incarcerated or donating to a gift drive to support the families of those individuals. If you are not able to physically stay with your loved ones during the holiday season, consider ways to connect with them virtually. Engaging in a special “together” tradition, despite the physical separation, can be a way to encourage feelings of closeness.

Overall, how important is maintaining positive mental health to a person’s overall well-being and health?

very! Maintaining our mental health is an essential component of overall well-being and health. Like regular exercise and adequate nutrition to maintain our physical health, it is also important to practice consistent strategies to maintain our mental health. Positive mental health is closely associated with better physical health outcomes, including but not limited to immune system functioning, cardiovascular health, and blood pressure. There is an interrelationship between physical and mental health, and both contribute significantly to overall well-being and life satisfaction. It is important that we prioritize both in efforts to create healthy lifestyles.

What are some resources, for both students and the public, that people can use in times of crisis or uncertainty?

First, if you or someone you know is going through a suicide crisis, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). You can also text ‘HOME’ to 741741 to speak to a crisis counselor through the Crisis Text Line. The Center for Student Counseling and Psychological Services (SCPS, 334-844-5123) is a great free on-campus resource offering individual and group therapy, workshops, and a variety of coping resources for Auburn students. Auburn University Psychological Services Center (AUPSC, 334-844-4889), located in Cary Hall, provides treatment and assessment services to campus and the local community. The Marriage and Family Therapy Center (334-844-4478) located on campus at Glanton House serves individuals, couples, and families and is available to both the campus and the local community. The Employee Assistance Program (EAP, 1-800-925-5EAP) provides confidential and free mental health services to all benefit-eligible employees and their eligible dependents.

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