Managing Stress During the Winter Break

Written by: Dr. Kathy Killian-Harmon and Kären Robinson, RVU Mental Health and Wellness Counselors

Adapted from

Say Good-Bye to the Winter Blues

Kären Robinso, LPC

The dark days of late fall and winter can cause many people to feel more down than normal – in fact, up to 10-20% of the population report experiencing this phenomenon. Some people, about 1-2% of the population (particularly women and young people), may experience more severe symptoms that can be attributed to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Both mild “winter blues” and SAD are treatable, and there are several things we can do to help ourselves through this period. If your symptoms are affecting your functioning or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, please reach out to a trusted professional.

Tip 1: Get as much natural sunlight as possible! Try having breakfast outside, or going on a walk every day.

Tip 2: Exercise regularly. Aim for 30-60 minutes of continuous activity daily.

Tip 3: Reach out to family and friends. It might feel awkward at first, but be the one to break the ice with people you haven’t talked to in a while.

Tip 4: Eat the right diet. While you might crave sugary foods or simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and bananas can increase levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, which helps you regulate your emotions and feel well. Omega-3 fatty acids — such as oily fish, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds — can also improve your mood and may even boost the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.

Tip 5: Take steps to deal with stress. Practice daily deep physical relaxation like yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. Make time for doing things you enjoy and that give meaning to your life.

Is Gift-Giving Stressing You Out?

During the holidays, many people become anxious over picking the right gift for a loved one. In these times, it is important to know what the purpose of the gift really is. Some gifts are practical but most of the time a gift is a symbolic gesture. It is meant to convey affection and sentiment. When we give a gift it usually represents that we care and appreciate them.

It is important to remember that the gift often represents feelings behind it. Our feelings are more important than the gift itself. If you feel anxious over whether or not your gift shows how you feel, then perhaps it would be more meaningful to tell the person how you feel. A card telling the person how you feel can be more meaningful than the gift itself. You could take that person out to dinner and tell them how you feel about them instead of being anxious over a gift.

Boundaries: The Gift You Can Give Yourself

Kathy Killian-Harmon, LMFT

Are you concerned about spending too much money or time on gifts? It is important to set gift-giving boundaries for yourself.

1. Setting a firm budget for yourself and sticking to it no matter what.

2. Allocating a certain amount of money to a certain person.

3. Don’t forget that you are a busy person and making room to forgive yourself if you can’t get to everyone on your list.

For more about gift-giving, listen to this episode of the Happiness Lab:

We hope you have a wonderful and restful winter break!

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