By Erinn Callahan
New Year’s resolutions are often tangible goals — lose 10 pounds, read 30 books, run 5 miles a day.
Mental health goals are more abstract, but equally important, and perhaps never more so than during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, local mental health professionals say.
With its financial expectations, endless string of social commitments, and the pressure to partake in holiday cheer, the “most wonderful time of the year” can quickly become overwhelming, El Paso County Health Promotion Coordinator Michelle Hewitt said.
“At a time of year often touted as magical, sometimes it can be hard to muster the energy to be able to enjoy it,” El Paso County Public Health officials wrote in “Managing Holiday Stress the Manly Way,” a newsletter reminding residents not to lose sight of self care during an often hectic season.
Lori Jarvis, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Colorado Springs, has some simple advice for those addressing their mental health in the new year.
“Pay attention,” Jarvis said. “If you feel like you need some help, you probably do.”
This season can bring certain “triggers” — external events or circumstances that may produce psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety, panic or depression, Jarvis said.
This is especially true for active duty military members who may be spending the holidays away from their family for the first time, she said. However, Jarvis and Hewitt agree acknowledging your feelings, rather than ignoring them, is the first step to taking control of one’s mental health.
“We get so emotionally invested in the holidays and when there is a change, it’s really unsettling,” Jarvis said. “It takes people being willing to acknowledge it, not minimize it.”
Both Hewitt and Jarvis emphasized local resources. One of the newest — and more unique — is Man Therapy, Hewitt said.
A collaboration between Denver-based ad agency Cactus Inc., the Carson J. Spencer Foundation, and the Office of Suicide Prevention at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Man Therapy is an interactive mental health campaign targeting men 25 to 54 years old, according to www.mantherapy.org.
The website’s advice is packaged in typical “male” humor, Hewitt said, but the tips themselves are gender neutral: Document your feelings in a journal. Throw yourself into a household projects. The site even includes a link to the T-2 mood tracker, a mobile app that allows users to monitor and track their emotional health.
Jarvis recommended the Colorado Crisis Service Hotline for those needing immediate assistance. Callers can dial 1-844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255, to be connected with a crisis counselor or trained professional.
Staffers will determine if an emergency response is necessary, but they also are there to simply lend an ear, Jarvis said.
“Maybe it’s 2 a.m., or maybe they aren’t too keen on talking to a friend,” she said. “It’s very real time and there for people if they are having a rough time and need to reach out.”
AspenPointe Mental Health also offers walk-in crisis services at two locations in Colorado Springs — 115 S. Parkside Drive and 6071 E. Woodmen Road, Jarvis said.
While people should absolutely utilize these resources during a crisis, finding constructive ways to cope on a day-to-day basis is critical to one’s well-being, Jarvis said.
“Don’t downplay it if you’re feeling significantly depressed,” she said. “If it gets to that point, please do use those services, but think about other kinds of self care.”
Examples include calling a friend, taking a bath, going for a walk or simply setting aside time for yourself each day, Jarvis said.
“Whether it’s watching ESPN or going for a hike, make sure to take time to do the things that make you happy,” El Paso County Public Health officials wrote. “Carving out a little time for yourself can recharge your battery and help you feel more energized.”
Diet and exercise are as essential to mental health as they are to physical health, Hewitt said. In their letter, county public health officials advised adding a few servings of healthy fruits and veggies each day in order to feel your best.
Rest is another key component, Jarvis said. A sleep-deprived person is more susceptible to unwanted emotions, particularly if they already are struggling with mental illness, she said.
“When you’re tired, you’re that much more vulnerable,” Jarvis said. “It’s amazing how much those things do help.”
For those who prefer a more structured approach, NAMI members offer a free 10-session educational program for adults with mental illness who are looking to better understand their condition, as well a 12-week course for those with family members with mental illness, Jarvis said.
The free Family-to-Family program will meet weekly for two and a half hours starting Jan. 24. Anyone interested can call 719-473-8477 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for location information.
“We see a lot of people who start the year by doing NAMI’s program,” Jarvis said. “If you come away from the holidays thinking, ‘Oh my God, I need some coping skills,’ you should sign up.”