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As winter blues, holiday stress, & pandemic woes push peoples mental health, health officials urge self-care


The lack of sunlight in the winter months can take a toll on people’s mental health.

Lack of vitamin D, changes in sleep patterns due to the extended darkness, and people not being as active can all contribute to depression.

The holidays can add stress, which can be good and bad.

And now, news of the omicron variant and health officials pushing people to take more precautions against COVID can be adding to that stress.

“Individuals who are already diagnosed with a mental illness such as depression and anxiety we would see those level of symptoms increase,” said Heidi Pritzl, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Psychotherapist for Aspirus Koller Behavioral Health in Rhinelander.

People’s mental health has changed over the course of the pandemic.

Pritzl says in the beginning, she noticed improvement in a lot of her patients.

Staying home, reconnecting with people, slowing down a bit helped some people suffering from depression or anxiety.

Pritzl says things have now shifted.

“For the individuals that I see who have been working through the pandemic, I definitely see that pandemic fatigue going on which looks very similar to burnout. It’s just, ‘I’m just trying to get up in the morning. I’m just trying to get to work. I’m just trying to get dinner on the table.’ And that’s where I really encourage that finding of balance,” said Pritzl.

She says that balance can be anything from reassessing the hours you work to going out to eat rather than cooking one night.

There’s a difference between those who are diagnosed with a mental illness versus those who may be just going to a rough patch and need something to pull them out of a funk.

For the latter, there are simple things you can do. Pritzl says its starts with focusing on self-care.

“You know when you get on an airplane and if there is any crisis, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first. We really have to promote self-care and awareness and finding balance. That looks different now,” she said.

Pritzl recommends apps like ‘Calm’ that teaches breathing techniques and selfcare.

She also says staying in the now helps.

“The minute we’re in the past, and that could be an hour ago, we tend to be depressed. You know, the could’ve, should’ve, would’ve,” said Pritzl. “The minute we move forward we’re more anxious. I need to do this. I need get this done. So really working on those techniques to stay present has also been helpful in finding balance.”

Pritzl says if depression, anxiety, or stress is impact two areas of your life, like work and home, for an extended period, you should seek medical help.

“To those in the community, I highly encourage linking back with your primary care because we always want to rule out if there’s any medical concerns that we need to be aware of and they have access to be able to refer you to the appropriate services.”.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, Pritzl says you should call 911 or a crisis line.

The local number is 1-888-299-1188. You can also text the national HOPE line at 741-741.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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