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1st Sgt Corner: Tips for beating the blues and knowing when to seek help

Soldiers participate in a yoga session.

Soldiers participate in a combat mobility yoga session at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Feb. 23, 2021, to improve overall mental wellness and increase core strength and mobility.

Spring is almost upon us and that means warmer weather and longer, sunnier days. Still, the global COVID-19 pandemic continues on and there are still a few weeks of chillier weather ahead. With pandemic restrictions making many of us feel isolated, fighting the blues is more important than ever. So what are some easy, common tips to perk up while feeling low?

“As a social worker, the best advice I can give is to maintain an awareness of yourself,” explains 1st Lt David Miller, a clinical social work resident with the 88th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron (OMRS) at Wright-Patterson AFB. “Depressive symptoms can look different for everyone. One person might have strong feelings of sadness, another might have angry outbursts and yet others might have issues with sleep or unexplained physical problems. It is really important to know yourself and understand when you are feeling ‘off’ so that you can make changes to your current lifestyle or possibly seek assistance if needed.”

For SMSgt Elise Phillips, who currently serves as the First Sergeant for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, beating the winter blues means staying active. Still, she admits staying motivated is hard when there is less sun and cold temps. Plus, self-care goes beyond lacing up tennis shoes and getting moving each day.
“An article that I read said one way to combat winter blues is to limit the amount of news media that we watch as it can make us feel doom and gloom or negative effects at times,” explains Phillips. “Another adjustment we can make is to alter our diet to include more protein in each meal and intake more vitamin D from dairy products which can assist with mood improvement.”

Beyond sun, diet and exercise, sleep has a huge impact on our moods during waking hours.

“Sleep is a critical component to balancing mood and improved mental health. Environmental conditions play a vital role in receiving the best quality of sleep. It is important to try to avoid light and to have complete darkness to give your mind and body time to relax and the ideal room temperature for sleep is 65 degrees,” adds Phillips.
So you are moving more, sleeping well, eating better and watching less news. What if the depressive feelings persist?

“It is recommended that individuals who have attempted to shake off the ‘winter blues’ but are still suffering from a variety of symptoms that include a combination of depressed mood, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, low energy, sleep issues, significant changes in appetite/weight, feelings of agitation, difficulty concentrating, feelings of hopelessness/guilt, or having thoughts of hurting yourself/suicide seek additional help,” says Miller. “I personally work in the Mental Health department at Wright Patterson and I see people all the time who are experiencing an increase in depressive symptoms. We have multiple services available at a variety of levels that can provide assistance if needed. Some of the resources that are available include Military One Source (1-800-342-9647), the Military & Family Life Counseling Program (MFLAC) (937-257-3592), the Employee Assistance Program for Civilians (1-866-580-9078) and Mental Health (937-257-6877).”

Chaplains are also available on all military bases to provide spiritual support.

Another resource is SMSgt Phillips herself. If you are struggling and do not know where to turn or how to begin to seek help, an email or phone call to Phillips is a great place to start.