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This holiday season, put mental health and wellness at the top of your to-do list

President of The Florida Bar Top Stories
Dori Foster-Morales

Dori Foster-Morales

As we begin the holiday season, it’s vital we keep our  mental health and general well-being front and center and on the very top of our holiday to-do lists. Now more than ever, we must prioritize our mental and emotional states.

For many of us, the number of guests at our Thanksgiving tables may be much smaller this year as we plan to celebrate with our immediate families due to COVID-19. I imagine that these smaller and more intimate celebrations shall mark all of our holiday celebrations this year. Coupled with the routine stressors of the holiday season like shopping for gifts, planning and cooking elaborate meals, and navigating complicated family dynamics, all of which are exacerbated by the pandemic, we are all facing an even more stressful holiday season than in years past, making it more important than ever to focus on our mental health.

If there’s one thing we know about mental health, it’s that talking about it — addressing it — is crucial. Let’s start by talking about the holiday blues — a term we hear plenty this time of year. The holiday blues are those nagging, creeping feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday and winter seasons. These can manifest into feelings of loneliness, sadness, fatigue, tension, and a general sense of loss — these ring especially familiar in 2020.

But there’s a physical element to consider, too. This time of year, with its shorter days, can mean less sunlight and vitamin D, changes in diet or routine, an increase in alcohol consumption, and not being able to be with many of our friends and family. These are all factors that can critically alter our mental health.

According to a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) survey, 64% of people are affected by the holiday blues and 24% say they are very affected. That startling revelation compounded with the ongoing stress and fears associated with the pandemic, could mean this holiday season will take quite the toll on our mental states. But there are actions we can take to help us better care for our mental health this holiday season and beyond.

Experts wholly agree that exercise, sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, getting sunshine, and meditating are effective tactics to improve our moods. It’s also important to remember to take time for yourself, as it’s easy to become immersed in daily routines with work and family life. Whether that means doing yoga, going on a run, catching up with friends, reading that unopened book on your nightstand, or spending time in the garden, carve out the time to do something you truly love. And while it may feel like our annual traditions are taking a hit this year in the midst of COVID-19, try to find ways to weave new traditions into the old.

While we may be physically distanced from loved ones, there’s no reason to resign ourselves to isolation. FaceTime or Zoom with family during Thanksgiving dinner or while cooking family recipes, share photos of your holiday decorations over email and social media, call up family and friends to tell them you’re thinking of them. I have seen first-hand with our Board of Governors and Young Lawyers Division, that Zoom can be harnessed for more than just deposition and work-related obligations.  It is important to remember that while we may feel isolated, we are all going through this strange season together. “Zooming” with family or friends can break that feeling and may be just as beneficial to those you zoom with as it is to you.

Certainly, one tradition that may be important now more than ever is to express what we’re grateful for. Numerous studies show that gratitude is tied to improvement in both a person’s mental health and in their relationships. And while this year has been laden with challenges for us all, it is essential that we take reflective moments to sift out the negatives and cast a light on all of our blessings — because they are abundant. Expressing gratitude can be done in your head, in a journal, or aloud with family and friends. My family and I like to go around the dinner table during our Thanksgiving meal and take a moment to express our thanks.

I would be remiss if I did not personally share how grateful I am for the support and encouragement I have received  from the Bar during this difficult time of leadership, including from my colleagues on the Board of Governors, the past presidents of the Bar, and the incredible staff of the Bar.

But if you find yourself needing a little bit more help, I encourage you to use the resources available to you as a Bar member. The Florida Lawyers Helpline — a free, confidential 24/7 lawyers helpline with professional counselors — is a great resource. And the Mental Health and Wellness Center has a wealth of CLE videos, podcasts, meditations and self-assessments, studies and news articles, suggested reading — and places to find help if you need it.  There is absolutely no shame in seeking out this help and I am hopeful that all members avail themselves of this great member benefit.

While 2020 has brought us many challenges, this doesn’t have to be a holiday season defined by stress and sadness. I hope you are able to spend time with loved ones, whether in person or virtually, and are able to find time for yourself to enjoy life’s many blessings.

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