STC counselors lead virtual ‘12 Days of Wellness’

The best gift this holiday season is a sound and healthy mindset.

During this time of year, streets are lined with lights and radio stations play classic Christmas songs all day long, all of which foster cheer and good tidings. However, for some, these can serve as triggers for seasonal depression and stress, also known as the holiday blues.

Two counselors — Elizabeth Delgado and Diana Hernandez — of South Texas College’s Counseling and Student Accessibility Services offered advice on how to practice self care during a virtual panel titled “How to Beat the Holiday blues: 12 Days of Wellness” on Wednesday.

There are several factors that can contribute to holiday blues, and one of the most overlooked reasons, Hernandez said, is the change of weather.

“The holidays are actually darker days of winter that bring about high emotions and demands,” said Hernandez, who has been a campus counselor for 20 years. “This can leave you feeling gloomy, just the darkness outside, the lack of sunlight.”

Delgado said causes for seasonal depression vary between people, but more often than not, the root of depression stems from the grievances of the losses a person experienced in the past year. And since most of this year has been spent in quarantine because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the community’s losses are vast.

Loss of life. Loss of jobs. Loss of celebrations, ceremonies and traditions. Loss of security.

“We can’t pinpoint a list of causes because everyone is unique,” said Delgado, who has been a campus counselor for 19 years. “Every individual experiences and perceives things differently… What the holiday season does is that it magnifies what is missing, especially when someone is experiencing these blues.”

Striving for wellness in the midst of a pandemic and during the holiday season means knowing how to properly process emotions and identify limits of mental stress.

To encourage practices of mental and physical wellness in the community, Delgado and Hernandez went through 12 pieces of advice, a list they coined “12 Days of Wellness.”

The first day, Hernandez said, sets the foundation of the rest: “Start with a positive mindset.”

“Mindset is actually those thought patterns and beliefs that shape your view of reality,” she said. “So those thought patterns may have come about because of the experiences that you have had throughout the years, or maybe the beliefs that have been passed on from your parents… Your state of mind will affect how you think, it will affect how you feel, and ultimately it is going to affect what you do.”

The second day focuses on self care, which Delgado noted is a practice people do not pay enough attention to.

“It’s generally human nature… for us to tend to focus on caring for others,” she said. “But remember that we cannot care for others if we are not well and healthy, and so we need that life balance. We need to make sure that we are addressing all those areas of wellness within ourselves.”

Along with a healthy and consistent sleeping pattern, Delgado encouraged listeners to spend time outside in the sunlight, which she attested “can boost your mood.”

Self care can also mean allowing oneself to feel sad. “If you are grieving for any reason, allow yourself to grieve,” Delgado said. “Allow yourself to grieve and cry, that is just as important for you in practicing self care and being on your way to accepting the loss.”

Delgado currently works at the college’s Nursing & Allied Health building in McAllen, and said many of the students in the healthcare field are used to forming study groups and practicing skills together. These are some of the losses the students she works with are facing during the pandemic.

She added that though it is common to commemorate the holiday season with alcohol, remember that “alcohol is a depressant, and it can promote more sadness and more negative reflection.

“(Alcohol) is OK in moderation, but remember that if you are consuming to make you feel better, that’s not practicing self care.”

The fifth day encourages people to allow new traditions to unfold — advice that may be difficult for many since the pandemic has changed much of the way the community usually celebrates the season. To abide by social distancing precautions, most local holiday events have moved online or have become drive-through versions.

Accepting new traditions may also be difficult for those who recently lost a loved one, Hernandez said.

“Sometimes this can be difficult because normally you would have spent your time with that individual, and so just remember to allow yourself to create a new tradition and maybe do something that is going to be a celebration of their life,” she said.

Hernandez recommended decorating and hanging a special stocking for that person, or cooking their favorite dish.

Purchasing gifts for loved ones can be stressful during this season, so the sixth day is about sticking to a budget.

The pandemic has caused financial strain on much of the community, since businesses have had to shutter — some temporarily, others permanently. Delgado wants to remind residents not to “feel bad about not giving the most expensive, extravagant gift this year… (Instead,) give a kind gesture, give a phone call, give conversation and that will go a long way.”

At the center of the dozen pieces of advice the counselor offered is to focus on things to be grateful for, and leaning on a support system, whether its family members, friends or a counselor.

Anyone of any age is susceptible to the holiday blues. If depression or stress persists, it’s highly recommended to reach out for professional help.

For the crisis text line, text 4669 to 741741. The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

12 Days of Wellness

Day 1 – Start with a positive mind-set

Day 2 – Practicing self care

Day 3 – Establishing a good support system

Day 4 – Give back to your community

Day 5 – Allow for new traditions to unfold

Day 6 – Set a budget and stick to it

Day 7 – It’s OK to say no

Day 8 – Journaling

Day 9 – Splurge on a gift for you

Day 10 – Be realistic, and try not to expect the perfect holiday

Day 11 – Recognize and be grateful

Day 12 – Seek guidance from health care provider system