Coping with Winter Blues… in Hawaii?

Robert Walker, Program Director at ‘Ekahi Health

Pictured: Winter atop Mauna Kea

As the holiday season approaches, we start to see more articles online about coping with holiday depression and stress. These articles paint vivid scenes of fireplaces and soft snow – but warn that wintertime brings about cold weather and shorter days, which can lead to a higher likelihood of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Now it’s tough to look at articles like these and relate them to our own daily lives, since Hawaii’s winters are relatively mild. But that doesn’t mean we’re not susceptible to holiday stress! Financial pressures, excessive commitments, and social expectations weigh heavily on our minds during these few months, and residents of Hawaii certainly aren’t immune. What’s more, the population in Hawaii balloons during the holidays – and with over 900,000 visitors forecasted to visit in December this year, the increase in traffic and crowds can definitely contribute to stress as well.

So now that we know what to expect, what can we do to minimize our stress levels during this time? Here are some tips:

  1. Spend time outdoors and in nature! We know this gets repeated a lot – but it’s particularly important during the winter months. For all its cold weather, Alaska is the second happiest state after Hawaii – and it’s largely thanks to the time the residents spend outdoors.
  2. Re-connect with family and friends. That’s important even for people that have tons of holiday commitments this year – the holiday season is inevitably a time for reflection, and re-connecting with old friends can help us re-live positive memories from our past.
  3. Practice self-care. Simple stress management techniques can have a profound impact on our mental well-being – even if we only have a few minutes each day to practice them. You can practice mindful breathing and meditation at any time and any place – close your eyes or pick a place to focus your eyes on, try to empty your mind, and concentrate on your breathing.

And then there are those of us that choose to brave air travel and leave Hawaii for colder climates during the winter. Perhaps it’s to see friends and family – or perhaps it’s just a ski trip. Regardless, an astounding 42% of Hawaii residents say they’d rather travel to a cold climate for vacation – with the top cold weather destinations being Alaska and Japan. If you’re one of the lucky few travelling this winter, here are some tips:

  1. Book your plane ticket and hotel room far in advance! Cheap last minute tickets may exist, but not during the busy holiday season. What’s more, having your reservation in hand early can give you peace of mind.
  2. Don’t stray from your current exercise and dietary regimen. We all know vacation is a time to indulge and spend time with family, but your body won’t respond well to the additional stress, and it may put a damper on your vacation.
  3. Have realistic expectations! We travel so rarely, it’s tempting to want to do everything when you’re on holiday – but what’s important is that we relax and create positive memories.

This holiday season, ‘Ekahi wishes you safe and happy travels!

The ‘Ekahi Ornish Program was offered by ‘Ekahi Health—which provides comprehensive community-based care focusing on primary care and prevention and wellness. Learn more about the ‘Ekahi Wellness Program