How to Help Patients Beat Holiday Depression

The holiday season is traditionally known as the most wonderful time of the year, but this is not the case for everyone. During these months, patient’s stress levels can rise because of increased expectations, financial problems, family issues, and dreary weather. Fortunately, providers don’t have to be a mental health expert to have a positive impact on patients who are dealing with this issue. Here are a few ways we can help patients who deal with excessive stress and depression during the holidays and winter months.

Talk to patients about overindulging.

It’s so easy to make bad diet choices during the holidays. Encourage patients to avoid overindulging and to moderate food and alcohol intake to regulate emotions during these stressful months. While alcohol will be a part of most holiday celebrations, remind them it is a depressant and can contribute to the holiday blues. Talk to patients about incorporating healthier foods such as raw vegetables and fresh fruits in their diets. These foods boost serotonin and dopamine in the brain, improving mood and well-being.

Encourage physical activity.

Recommend that patients maintain or increase their physical activity. Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Increased activity releases endorphins at greater levels, which can help improve mood and reduce feelings of anxiety. It also promotes positive changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of happiness. Finally, physical activity can also serve as a distraction, allowing patients to find some quiet time to break out of the vicious cycle of negative thoughts that can feed depression.

Review medication regimen.

Ensure patients are continuing with their regular medication routine. If they are on an antidepressant or mood stabilizer, encourage them to maintain consistency and are keeping up with refills to ensure they don’t run out of supply, especially with potential closing of pharmacies for holiday hours.

Discuss the importance of self-care.

Explain to patients the benefits of getting out of their comfort zones in a healthy and productive way. This can be with practicing meditation and mindfulness, scheduling a massage, volunteering with those less fortunate, immersing themselves in nature, and increasing sun exposure. Many studies show that spending time in outside improves concentration, decreases inflammation, and improves energy.

Help patients implement a mental health plan.

Assist patients in putting together a packet of resources and tools they can use when feeling extreme bouts of depression. Connect with local National Alliance on Mental Health chapters or research local mental health affiliates to form a community calendar of holiday events. Most mental health alliances will have patient handouts that can be accessed online and easily printed. Make a list of Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous meetings in your area for those with addiction. Collect healthy, easy-to-make holiday recipes, and organize some options for local wellness activities such as yoga or meditation.

While the festive spirit of the holidays envelopes those around us, we must remain aware of the depression that can take hold of patients during this season. Sometimes all they will need is a friendly ear and some healthy advice.

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