University of Connecticut Health professors provide advice on how to manage holiday blues, seasonal affective disorder and student burnout, according to a recent UConn Today article.
The holiday season can become a concoction of negative emotion, especially for those grieving a loss, recovering from the pandemic or from the usual lack of sunlight and cold weather found in most states during the winter. Dr. Neha Jain, an assistant professor of psychiatry and medical director of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at UConn Health, said people should be check on their friends and family, especially if they know they are struggling.
“To help someone who you think might be struggling, the most important thing is to be present for them. Don’t hesitate to check in. Let them know you are there. What you do for them must depend on their needs, so just ask,” Jain said in an email. “They may want to create a new tradition with you. They may just want some company. Or, they may want alone time to rest and recuperate, and to know someone is available at the other end of the phone.”
Some tips to either avoid or remedy holiday blues from UConn Health’s psychiatry experts are getting sunlight and exercise as much as possible to boost serotonin; planning ahead to decrease stress and leave more time to spend with loved ones; and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
There is a biological explanation for mellow moods during the holiday season, which can manifest in seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD. Getting sunlight or using a window or white light when indoors will have positive effects on a person’s mental health, according to Jain.
She said one of the main signs of seasonal depression is a consistently low mood.
“Most people are able to identify that as the days get shorter/holidays approach, and sometimes even if there are several cloudy days in a row, it affects their mood. Recognizing seasonal depression is about pattern recognition,” Jain said.
Dr. Jayesh Kamath, professor of psychiatry and immunology at UConn School of Medicine and research director for the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at UConn Health, said there is a direct correlation between our mood and sunlight.
“Winter’s reduced sunlight makes things a lot more difficult and complicated when you add to that stress of the holiday season,” Kamath said in the article. “There is a direct relationship between how much sunlight enters our eyes, changes in our brain chemistry, and circadian rhythm, or our internal biological clock.”
For students, entering the holiday season may be their first real break in months. To mitigate some of the burnout they feel as the semester slogs on, Jain suggested time management, balancing your schedule to leave room for social time and ensuring there is some time for yourself to recharge.
“It’s important to examine your life periodically and make sure your path aligns with your goals. Likewise, I think it’s important to make a realistic assessment of the amount of work you can do and still have time for non-work pursuits,” Jain said. “It’s just as important to have social support that can sustain you, invigorate you, and rescue you when you do need to take some time. Lastly, it’s important to have self care built into your life- if you don’t have time for self care, you are at risk for burnout.”
Broadly, the holidays have the potential to be a healthier time when people release their emotions and practice compassion when they are struggling, Karen Steinberg, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at UConn Health, said.
“Try to make a space for these feelings and have compassion for yourself with your own process. Help transform negative emotions by identifying and incorporating new helpful practices that can help,” Steinberg said in the article. “Whether connecting with supportive people in your life, cultivating mindfulness or present-centered awareness, or using creativity or pleasurable hobbies that engage your imagination and broaden your perspective.”