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COOK COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Mental Health During the Holiday Season: Entering the Darkness

Nov 24, 2022 05:19AM ● By Editor
November 24, 2022

By: Matthew Baxley, Cook County PHHS MH Crisis Response Coordinator

Most of us know what to expect, as the days grow shorter and the nights long. It happens every year. For many, the absence of light brings with it a heightened experience of anxiety or depression, especially during the holiday season. A survey conducted by NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, found that 64% of respondents stated that they were affected by mood shifts during this time of the year.

There are many traditions that mark this season with the reverence and respect it deserves. It can be a time of deep contemplation, introspection, and quiet. These experiences can, however, be overwhelming and even undesirable in our complex modern world. For many, embracing the darkness means fatigue, extra stress, unrealistic expectations of self, or even sitting with unwanted thoughts or memories. In these moments, we are tasked with finding a light in the darkness. This can be both literal and figurative. Some signs that it may be time to find some light may include feelings of fatigue, tension, frustration, loneliness, sadness, or a sense of loss. People who already live with a mental health condition should take extra care to tend to their overall health and wellness during this time by cultivating ongoing sources of light in their life.

A lot of factors can trigger heightened seasonal stress such as lack of sleep, changes in your diet or routine, alcohol at parties, over-commercialization of holidays, financial stress, unrealistic expectations, loneliness, or the inability to be with friends or family. These are all factors that can seriously affect your mood. So, it’s important to notice how you are coping with the combination of factors.

It’s important to note the difference between the natural rhythms associated with the season and the experience of clinical anxiety and depression. Primarily, seasonal feelings often ebb and flow in a temporary way; however, short-term problems should be cared for seriously because they can lead to long-term mental health concerns. 

There are many ways to cope by cultivating healthier habits that support your mood and bring lightness in this dark time. In addition to talking to your doctor or a mental health professional about your seasonal mood changes, there are many other things you can do to help manifest more light:

  • Stick to normal routines as much as possible
  • Be outside in natural light or use a SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) lamp regularly
  • Seek out healthy community spaces and activities that increase feelings of connection
  • Set boundaries: say no if you need to (and don’t feel bad about it)
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take time for yourself, but don’t isolate yourself
  • Eat and drink in moderation—do not drink alcohol if you are feeling down
  • Exercise
  • Set reasonable expectations for holiday activities
  • Set a budget for holiday expenses
  • Practice mindfulness- don’t slack on self-care
  • If you are in recovery, recognize triggers and have a plan
  • Seek professional help if you need it

If your friend or family member is struggling, try listening empathetically. You don’t have to understand how someone is feeling to have respect for it. Be careful of accidentally shaming or minimizing the other person’s experience. Instead, make a point to express feelings of hope. You can also offer to serve as a distraction. Invite them to go for a winter hike or to have coffee with you. You can also encourage and even assist them in meeting with a mental health professional.

Remember, this is not an easy time of year for many, so be gentle with yourself. If you find your symptoms aren’t getting better or you are struggling to function as you normally do, it’s time to reach out. Please remember that you are not alone.

Local Mental Health Supports:

Cook County Public Health and Human Services: 218-387-3620
Cook County and Grand Portage 24/7 Resource and Afterhours Crisis Line: 844-772-4724
Grand Portage Human Services: 218-475-2453

Sawtooth Mountain Clinic: 218-387-2330
Violence Prevention Center: 218-387-1262

National and Statewide Crisis Lines:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 or 988
State Crisis Text Line: Text 988 or “MN” to 741741.
The Trevor Project LGBTQ+ Crisis Line:866-488-7386
Veteran's Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255

Mental Health Warmlines and Helplines:
Minnesota Warm Line Peer Support Connection: 844-739-6369
The NAMI Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
National Parent Helpline: 855-427-2736, operated by Parents Anonymous.
Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline: 833-600-2670


Adapted from:

Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues (NAMI 2015)

Surviving Painful Holiday Emotions (NAMI 2020)

Stress, Depression, and the Holidays: Tips for Coping (Mayo Clinic 2020)

Why We Really Get Depressed During the Holidays (HealthPartners 2020)


Learn more about the PHHS department and resources to support your mental health and well-being online at or follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS or on Instagram  @cook_county_phhs.


County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.

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