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Carle offers resources to improve mental health during the holiday and winter season

Carle offers resources to improve mental health during the holiday and winter season
The holidays can be an exciting time of year, but with this excitement can also come a decline in mental health as winter fully sets in. Family stress is heightened and for those who experience loss or loneliness, this time of year can be especially difficult.

“Many people are affected by some form of seasonal affect that is triggered by the weather change and the shorter days,” Ric Matkowski, MA, LCPC, Carle Psychology said. “They are less likely to go outside and miss out on the natural vitamin D that comes from the sun. It is also frustrating for many who work all day and leave at 5 p.m. when it is already dark.”

Another common stressor this time of year comes from setting unrealistic expectations for the holidays and family stress. “There is always pressure to create the ‘perfect’ holiday celebration and preparing the ‘perfect’ holiday meal or finding the ‘perfect’ present,” Matkowski said. “Another thing to keep in mind is that this is the first holiday season that we are feeling safe to act ‘normal’ after nearly three years of COVID-19.”

When your mental health or the mental health of your loved ones begins to decline, there are observable signs to look out for. Symptoms of depression include chronic irritability, when a person appears always angry or negative, weight changes, diminished pleasure, or when a person becomes withdrawn. This behavior involves increased time sleeping and lack of interests in plans or events.

“Some may show signs of anxiety,” Matkowski said. “This can include excessive and uncontrollable worry, restlessness, easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating and irritability.” But Matkowski also cautions against self-diagnosing. “Before anyone watches a TikTok video and makes a self-diagnosis, it’s important to recognize that the criteria for diagnosis must also include that functioning has been significantly affected.” If these feelings are disrupting your day or ability to work, it may be time to seek professional help.

Matkowski offers several pieces of advice for managing your mental health during this time of year. “We want to take care of our physical vulnerabilities. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), we have a skill called PLEASE which helps us to be mindful of this.”

PLEASE includes:
  • Physical heaLth, staying on medications, keeping doctor appointments and addressing illnesses.
  • Eating mindfully and making healthy choices for what we eat.
  • Mood Altering substances are more available at holiday parties, so it’s important to not overindulge.
  • Sleep hygiene, keeping a bedtime and morning routine that relaxes you.
  • Exercise becomes harder in the winter, so routines also become important with being mindful of maintaining an exercise regimen.
“The holidays can mess with sleep routines, but consistency is important,” Matkowski said. “Try to turn off electronics before sleep and I challenge you to stay off social media during the holidays to block out negative thoughts, especially before sleep.” Matkowski also encourages creating a relaxing morning routine. “Waking up is an assault to the senses. Start the morning with some breathing exercises or by drinking water to help you reset for the day.”

Matkowski also encourages using SMART goals which help prevent setting unrealistic expectations.
SMART goals include:
  • Staying focused on the Specific and Measurable objectives.
  • Making sure that goals set are Attained and Realistic.
  • Giving yourself Time to achieve your goals.
“We want to use SMART goals instead of creating unrealistic expectations of creating a magical celebration,” Matkowski said. “The lights on our homes do not have to look exactly like Clark Griswald’s home in Christmas Vacation.”

If you are spending time alone this time of year, Matkowski also recommends seeking volunteer opportunities or video calling the people you’re missing. “Find ways to connect to the community with food pantries and soup kitchens as well as the various church activities that help people in need. When we are helping others, we are less focused on ourselves and what we are missing.”

Some employers also offer support. At Carle Health, Resolutions Employee Assistant Program (EAP) is available to help team members support their mental health issues, family challenges and more.

Licensed, masters-trained counselors assist individuals with stress/emotional issues, depression/anxiety disorders, grief/ bereavement therapy, substance abuse problems and more. 

The Employee Assistance Program is a benefit to employees and their household members that focuses on maintaining personal well-being and work productivity. 

“Resolutions EAP is a free, comprehensive and highly confidential employee assistance plan which is part of your benefits as a Carle Health employee.” said Linda Culton, LCSW, EAP Clinical Supervisor. “If you are interested in counseling services, a free referral for legal, basic financial or elder care question simply call the EAP’s main number for quick access to obtaining an appointment.”

They see clients of all ages for individual counseling, couples and family counseling are also common. The program plays a leading role in supporting the mental wellness team members. Counselors use many different types of therapy, such as art, play, emotion regulation, cognitive behavior therapy or grief. 

Check with your employer for the mental health services available for you and your loved ones. To learn more about what EAP resources may be available to you, call 217-383-3202.

For more information on managing mental wellness, visit

Categories: Staying Healthy

Tags: Community, Health, Holidays, Mental, Wellness, Winter