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How to cope with the holidays, darkness and a news cycle full of tragedy when it takes a toll on your mental health

Sign at the Granite Recovery Centers' new residential mental health treatment facility in Canterbury, New Hampshire.
Paul Cuno-Booth
Sign at the Granite Recovery Centers' new residential mental health treatment facility in Canterbury, N.H.

The holiday season is upon us, which can bring cheer, but also complicated feelings for many people. Tragic events have also filled the news recently, here in New Hampshire and abroad, which can be difficult to process.

Susan Stearns is the executive director of the mental health advocacy group NAMI-New Hampshire. She spoke with NHPR’s Rick Ganley about how people can cope during a sometimes trying time. Below are excerpts from their conversation.

Be mindful of your media consumption

Rick Ganley: Do you have any advice for people who are having a hard time with the news?

Susan Stearns: Sometimes you need to turn it off. There is so much. I mean, with the tragedy in Lewiston, [Maine], the tragedy here in Concord, and obviously the conflicts around the world. Particularly with the 24-hour media cycle, I encourage people to put themselves on media diets, which doesn't mean you're not going to pay attention, but determine here's how and when – and for this limited amount of time. I think also being mindful of [whether] your children [are] also in the room if you've got the TV on and you've got the 24-hour news station running. Because these situations can be traumatizing, I think, for those of us watching them as adults, but for children, they can be even more so.

Practice self-care

Susan Stearns: I would also encourage people to practice self-care. And I don't mean the commodified self-care where you have to buy something cute on Instagram. Tend to your own needs. Often I think about it as a well in that we draw from the well. You need some rain to fill the well every now and then. So what is it you need to replenish yourself.

And definitely stay connected with your loved ones. Try and get outside every day. I know it's really cold, but research shows a little bit of sunlight every day actually improves your mood.

Rick Ganley: It certainly does.

Susan Stearns: And sleep. Sleep is so important, and I know it can be a challenge. But make sure you allow yourself the time for that sleep and rest.

Rick Ganley: Put down the phone.

Susan Stearns: Yes, put down the phone. If you think your kids are looking at a lot of this news and they're having concerns, ask them to show you what they're looking at and talk about it with them.

Focus on the helpers

Susan Stearns: The reality is there's tremendous hope in the wake of these disasters when you look at the helpers. And it reminds us of how we are stronger together and how much we are meant to find support from each other. We are meant to live in community. We're not meant to navigate this life alone.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Mary McIntyre is a senior producer at NHPR.
Jackie Harris is the Morning Edition Producer at NHPR. She first joined NHPR in 2021 as the Morning Edition Fellow.

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