By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

The tree is down, those joyful memories of Christmas morning buried in the brown needles that seem to hang around seemingly until spring.

The Nativity has been stowed and the outdoor decorations shoved back into the cramped attic.

The Christmas season is over.

For many, this is the time of year when the holiday blues take root, the euphoria of the holidays morphing into a slight depression of unmet expectations, dreary weather and the onslaught of January bills.

“I think the holiday blues are real,” said Paula Davis, a social worker and mental health professional with Catholic Charities Diocese of Baton Rouge. “I would say the majority of the blues are before and during the holidays. And I think the media feeds into that, such as the Christmas specials that you see or this idea that there has to be all of these presents under the tree.

“I think people lose focus about what the Christmas season is really about.”

Stephanie Sterling, director of the Maternity, Adoption and Behavioral Health Services Department of CCDBR, said social media is also a culprit, noting that people are posting “all kinds of perfect pictures, what their houses look like and how perfect and happy their children are with their brand new toys.”

“I think it just feeds into people’s thoughts that that may be failing at family or even at life. I think (social media) does a number on a lot of people.”

Davis agreed and warned that what people are posting is often “carefully curated to present a picture and it’s not necessarily a reflection of how it really is.

“People spent a lot of time making things look a certain way but it’s not their own reality.”

So how does one combat those pesky holiday blues, and nip it so it it does not become a greater problem? Simply put, exercise and diet.

“That’s the most effective treatment for depression,” Davis said.

“It’s self-care and having fuel in the tank,” Sterling said. “What does that mean? Well, making sure you’re taking care of yourself, eating healthy foods.”

She said people often splurge during the holidays and consume larger than usual amounts of sugary and high fat foods.

“A lot of times we get off track with (diet) during the holidays to have social connections, and that’s very important for people’s mental health,” she said.

“It’s not typically healthy food and that’s not necessarily good fuel for your body,” Davis said. “When you think about staying hydrated, are people drinking enough water?

“People’s alcohol intake tends to increase during the holidays, and not only is that empty calories but impairs your sleep.”

Sterling said it’s also import to practice good sleep hygiene, such as using your bed for sleep only, and keeping the room temperature cool. Also, unplugging from all electronic devices at least two hours before going to bed is recommended, and she encouraged people not to sleep with the cell phone too close to the bed, noting that one’s phone can be a source of stress or anxiety.

If the blues or depression persists, counseling is the next step, which is where CCDBR steps in. The agency offers a counseling program at six locations with sliding scales, depending on one’s income.

Insurance is also accepted.

CCDBR’s nine counselors offer more than 100 combined years of professional experience. A Spanish-speaking counselor is also available.

“So you’ve tried all of these wellness tips and you’re not feeling better, then you want to reach out to a professional for help,” Davis said.

Carol Spruell, CCDBR director of communications, said the agency helps about 200 people annually.

“It’s high quality, affordable professional help with people that really care,” Sterling said.

“People don’t recognize that there is a connection between stress and how they feel physically,” she added. “That’s the reality. A lot of times stress shows up in physical symptoms.

“That’s like another level of good health.”

CCDBR offers counseling in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Denham Springs, Gonzales, New Roads and St. Amant.

Anyone seeking assistance should call 225-336-8708 to set up an appointment. For the Hammond counseling center, people can call 985-542-5455.