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Protect Your Mental Health During the Winter Months

The winter months and holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but also can be a time when individuals are more susceptible to feelings of isolation and loneliness that can lead to depression.

“This time of year can be challenging,” said Dr. Aubry Hildebrandt, an Integrated Care Strategist with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare and a licensed marriage and family therapist. “It’s a colder time of year so people spend more time inside and don’t go out as much. That piece can increase isolation and loneliness.”

The holidays also can be an emotional time, bringing up positive and negative feelings for people of all ages. It is important to know the symptoms of depression and to take steps to protect one’s mental health this time of year, Hildebrandt said. Symptoms of depression include fatigue, a loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable, decreased appetite, and feelings of hopelessness. Some individuals may experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a type of depression displaying a recurring seasonal pattern.

Britney Phifer, a Clinical Analyst at Cardinal Innovations who also is a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed clinical additions specialist, said intentionally seeking interaction with others is crucial this time of year to protect one’s mental health.

“We really want to drive home the importance of interacting with other people,” Phifer said. “Like the way physical activity is good for your body, social activity is good for your brain. Multiple studies show it leads to better cognitive function in addition to improving mental health overall.”
Here are some tips to help protect your mental health this winter:

Care for your overall health. Physical activity reduces depression and anxiety. Adequate nutrition is also important to maintaining your mental health during the winter months.

Tips: If getting adequate nutrition is difficult, look into Meals on Wheels, a program which can deliver hot meals to you. Try to find a safe, warm and accessible place to exercise such as an indoor track or pool, a gym or even a mall where you can walk for exercise. Some community centers or community colleges may offer exercise classes.

Social interaction and living in a neighborhood environment. Multiple studies conclude that a social support network and social interaction reduce negative mental health symptoms. One study showed the value that living in a neighborhood environment later in life can have, as this increases social interaction.

Tip: Head to the local community center for social interaction. Look for older adult meet-up groups, book clubs, interest groups or groups online.

Get a pet. Pet owners get more physical exercise and have lower triglyceride levels than their non-pet-owning counterparts.

Tip: If it’s not possible to own a pet, consider finding a volunteer opportunity with a local animal shelter or Humane Society where you can interact with the animals or temporarily foster a pet until it can be placed in its permanent home.

Volunteer. People who spent time volunteering experienced a greater psychological well-being, according to one study.

Tips: Consider finding a way to share your talents through teaching and tutoring, mentoring, childcare and in other ways. You can often identify volunteer opportunities using the internet, local library, community center or through a church or religious center.

You also can help protect each other. Be a community ambassador in the fight against isolation and loneliness by keeping an eye out for neighbors who do not leave their homes and have infrequent visitors.

“We want to empower people to watch for isolation and loneliness,” Phifer said. “They can be on the lookout for others who might be experiencing these symptoms.”

As a final reminder, individuals who find themselves or a loved one in need of immediate mental health support are encouraged to call Cardinal Innovations 24/7 Access/Crisis Line, 1.800.939.5911.

When in doubt, please reach out!
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