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Press Release

Release Date: November 25, 2020

by Chickasaw Nation Media Relations Office



Overcoming seasonal shifts and COVID-19 blues

ADA, Okla. – Shorter days, colder winds blowing away the vibrant leaves of autumn, friends and family members self-quarantining in their homes – these are signs that winter is approaching. With winter comes holiday festivities, and all of this can be potentially hazardous during a pandemic.

“I think this is a great time of year. Seeing the leaves change and the weather change, a lot of people really do appreciate that season,” said Chickasaw Nation Department of Family Services Undersecretary Dr. Paul Emrich.

“But, also, it’s important to be aware some people experience mental health changes along with the seasonal change, and this year is a little bit different with COVID-19. Things are pretty stressful. A lot of people are feeling isolated. I think connecting is even more important this year, but we need to do it in safe ways.”

Dr. Emrich has dedicated his career to assisting others mentally and emotionally. He offers some insight on possible upcoming pitfalls and how to protect yourself and those close to you in the coming months.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Due to environmental factors like dwindling exposure to sunlight, some experience a type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to “Psychology Today,” SAD is estimated to affect 10 million Americans yearly. Another 10 to 20% of the population may have mild SAD. Women are four times as likely to have SAD, and the farther from the equator one lives, the likelier they are to be impacted.

“It’s a type of depression that is actually associated with our biological changes we experience with the change in the weather and sunlight this time of year,” Dr. Emrich explained. “With those changes, a lot of times we change our sleeping patterns, our activities, even our bodies have a change related to it. Our biological clock changes, our melatonin levels, even our serotonin changes along with it as well. All of those things have an impact on our mental health.”

In addition to the physiological response to limited sun exposure, colder weather and shorter days can hinder some of the ways a person can proactively bolster their well-being – like getting outside, being active or participating in different activities.

Signs and symptoms of SAD might include energy loss, sleeping too much or too little, overeating, weight gain, social withdrawal or losing interest in normally desired activities. Leaning on substances to counteract the symptoms of SAD can also become apparent.

“Be aware so you can plan to do things that will help prevent the intensity of these conditions,” Dr. Emrich said.

It is even more important this year to be aware, for yourself and those around you, he said.

“It’s easy for someone to be isolated right now. This year, we are missing that face-to-face interaction, so it’s harder to pick up on things. We can miss connecting with someone over an extended period of time and not even realize it, because we have to go through extra effort to call someone or reach out to them in new ways.”

A little self-care and human interaction can help to maintain mental and emotional health.

Reach out. You can see how others are doing while also receiving comfort and support. Find time to get out during the day. You can soak up the sunlight needed to balance out levels of vitamin D, melatonin and serotonin while fitting in physical activity, according to Dr. Emrich.

Dr. Emrich also recommends paying attention to routines.

“Get the right amount of sleep, exercise appropriately, eat the right types of foods, drink plenty of water. And it’s very important right now, though it’s difficult, to maintain those social connections. Those are good things everyone can do,” he said.

“A mantra or saying I would go over with clients a lot this time of year is ‘Do what you know will make you feel better, not what you feel like doing,’” Dr. Emrich said. “Think to yourself, ‘What do I know will help me and make me feel better?’”

COVID-19 for the holidays

“This time of year, another thing that is exciting for a lot of us is we get together with people for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays. Typically, families get together, and we have events. Those are times we celebrate and connect,” Dr. Emrich said.

“This year is a little bit different with COVID. We need to make sure we are protecting ourselves and each other,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a guide on how to healthfully navigate holiday celebrations and small gatherings available at CDC.gov/Coronavirus. These recommendations are centered on keeping ourselves and each other safe, while reducing the spread of the virus.

Summarized, the CDC recommends gathering with members of your own household or virtually with others. Avoid travel and shopping in crowded stores. Consider preparing a traditional family recipe and leaving some as a gift for a neighbor who might be at high risk and isolating.

If you choose to travel and visit during the holidays, the CDC recommends safety measures such as mask wearing, responsible distancing and hand washing.

How we celebrate might be different, but that does not mean why we celebrate has changed.

“With Thanksgiving this month, I think one thing I’d want to emphasize to people is the gratitude that comes along with Thanksgiving is key to our well-being,” Dr. Emrich said. “It helps our mental attitude. This is the perfect time of year to exercise gratitude, even though we may be getting together and connecting in a different way.

“We are going to make it through this. We are going to make it past COVID,” he said. “We are going to look back on this, and I think we will be grateful for how we protected each other and ourselves – through physical distancing, masking, hand washing, using technology to connect. When we look back on what we are doing today, I think we’ll feel a lot of gratitude that we took those measures to make sure we all made it through OK.”

Resources

There is no wrong door or number when reaching out to Chickasaw Nation Mental Health Services, Dr. Emrich said. “If anybody connects with us, we will assist them by getting them connected to specialty care.”

Available to any First American visiting the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center or clinics are medical family therapists. When someone goes to see their primary care doctor, or if they go to a Chickasaw Nation clinic, they will have the opportunity to connect with a medical family therapist.

Chickasaw Nation Outpatient Services is also available to any First American individual or family. They offer psychotherapy and group therapy to people who may need it. There are offices in Ada and Purcell. Currently, Chickasaw Nation Outpatient Services provides virtual therapy so people can connect with a therapist from wherever they are located. The phone number is (580) 436-1222.

There is a public crisis text hotline available by texting “START” to 741741. They will respond immediately with help for anyone experiencing a crisis. Additionally, dialing 211 anywhere in Oklahoma will access a list of local mental health resources and other community services.

The Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Hotline is available nationally at 1 (800) 985-5990 or by texting “TalkWithUs” to 66746.

The “Connecting our Community” webpage at Chickasaw.net/COC is currently hosting a panel discussion on how to combat loneliness. An upcoming video will discuss bolstering mental health. Both videos will also be available at Facebook.com/TheChickasawNation.