FAIRMONT – Kenneth Hunter is originally from Florida, so when he moved to a place with four actual seasons, such as Fairmont, he had to adjust mentally.
Although the move was years ago, he still gets a little thrown off by the extended periods of darkness that come along with West Virginia winter, so he takes time to be mindful.
“Around this time of year, it gets colder, less sun,” Kenneth said. “Winter can be hard anyway, but missing a loved one is hard.”
Kenneth’s state of mind during this period of the year is actually somewhat common in many people. According to his wife, Yolanda Hunter, owner and therapist of Solace Behavioral Healthcare Services of Fairmont, many people can experience higher levels of anxiety and depression during the holiday season. She said several factors contribute to daily stress.
“Your body needs sunlight to synthesize Vitamin D, and lack of Vitamin D can lead to mood symptoms,” Yolanda Hunter said. “Then starting shortly after Halloween, it seems like the stress starts.”
She said parents can get stressed over trying to simply keep it all in balance.
“Figuring out shopping, cooking, cleaning, visitors coming, or traveling during this time – all of it can cause stress,” she said.
To fight these feelings of worry, whether it be caused by anticipation of an awkward interaction or a long holiday to-do list, she recommends trying to live in the moment. This helps to identify what is causing the anxiety or depressive feelings.
“The first thing that I recommend is people be kind to themselves,” Yolanda Hunter said. “Set aside each day, every day, something that you do for yourself that is kind for you. In the morning, it’s a great way to start your day, and then at the end of the day also, it’s a great way to reward yourself going into sleep.”
Jude Black, owner of Appalachian Life Enrichment Counseling of Fairmont, concurs with Hunter. She said people can become worried or overwhelmed over different aspects of the holidays.
“It’s a lot of different things, I think it’s trying to please so many people that you’re sharing the same space with,” Black said. “I think it’s also not really balancing things, it’s taking on so many tasks in such a short time.
“There’s generally a huge spike in anxiety and depression,” Black said.
Like Hunter, Black recommends trying to live in the moment, and take time to be aware of what your mind is doing.
“You really can’t do a lot about the past. Other than learning from it, we can’t change it,” Black said. “We can’t do a lot about what’s going to happen in the future, so our sweet spot is the here and now.”
Black compares the two states of mind of worry and mindfulness as a sponge and a duck respectively. She said a sponge soaks everything up and gets weighed down by it all, whereas a duck lets everything bounce off its back and keeps pedaling.
“Give yourself that moment to pause, take a break, be human, feel those feelings and really try to make those moments matter,” Black said.
According to Yolanda Hunter, not doing anything to calm prolonged stress can have negative effects on the mind and body. For those who associate Thanksgiving or other holiday seasons with sickness or not feeling well, it could be because of stress.
“A little bit of stress is okay; stress helps you stay motivated in general to do things,” Yolanda said. “But prolonged stress over time can have detrimental effects on the body, it can increase cortisol levels which can weaken your immune system, it can have cardiovascular effects, digestive effects, also play havoc with sleep cycles and just the overall feeling of not feeling well.”
Some people may also be dreading the holidays if a family member or friend passed awat in the last year. Black said their absence could be felt extra during family gatherings. Black said that it is OK to think about these loved ones and let some emotions out from time to time.
“As we get older or even younger and we start losing people, they are that front and center reminder that that person in your life that mattered is gone,” Black said. “You can look at the past and have those moments and those memories especially with the holiday. But I just gently encourage people to focus on the pleasant moments and not to stare at the past, because if you stare too long, you’re really missing some good opportunities now.”
For the Thanksgiving holiday specifically, Yolanda and Kenneth Hunter agree there is always the temptation to chow down to your heart’s content. However, overeating can lead to negative effects on the mind as well. Keeping with the theme of being mindful, Kenneth Hunter said those who regularly feel stress on this holiday should refrain from stress eating.
“During the holidays a lot of people, their eyes get bigger than their stomach,” Kenneth said. “Pick out what you like and just take time eating it, tasting the flavor, the texture; just slowing down in general.
“Be comfortable in staying in the moment; your main mission is enjoying the holiday.”
Solace provides some worksheets on its website that help people follow Yolanda’s advice, and they can be found by visiting solacebehavioralservices.com.