Faith and Mental Health Quarterly
December 1, 2021
Coping with seasonal affective disorder

Sometimes, it feels like the winter will never end. For some people, it’s a time when seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may set in.

SAD is when episodes of major depression, mania, or hypomania regularly occur during particular seasons. The most prevalent form of SAD is winter depression, usually beginning in the fall or winter, though people can also experience a spring-summer onset.

How can we cope with SAD?

  • First and foremost, talk to your physician. If you are diagnosed with SAD, your doctor can talk to you about specific treatments, medications and therapies.
  • If you are already on medication, make sure you have enough supply.
  • Create an exercise plan that allows you to work out safely indoors at home.
  • Consider light therapy – to increase light exposure and get outside when you can, even if it’s cold.
  • Interact with your support system, in-person or virtually.
  • Remember to take care of yourself by eating healthy, getting a good night sleep, exercising regularly, etc.

Managing the holiday blues

Courtesy NAMI

Many people can experience feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. Those who already live with a mental health condition should take extra care to tend to their overall health and wellness during this time. 

How can we manage the holiday blues?

According to Ken Duckworth, M.D., NAMI’s chief medical officer:

Don’t worry about how things should be. “There’s a lot of cultural pressure during the holidays,” said Duckworth. “We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.” But remember, those other families doubtlessly have their own stressors and ruminations to contend with.
Be realistic. You can’t please everyone the rest of the year, so why try to during the holidays? Saying ‘no,’ whether to gatherings or a present on someone’s wish list that you simply cannot find, can be one of the most challenging parts of the season. But your own mental and physical well-being needs to come first.

Don’t try to be a superhero (or heroine). We all have complex family dynamics. Acknowledge them, but also acknowledge that, despite the season’s near-universal message of unity and peace, it’s not a realistic outlook. If you must spend time with these people, try to limit your exposure.

Volunteer. Volunteering can be a great source of comfort, simply knowing that you're making a small dent in others' lives. This is a great strategy if you feel lonely or isolated. Consider seeking out other community, religious or other social events.

Managing stress during the holidays

Based on a presentation by Lisa Guardiola, Community Mental Health Outreach and Education Trainer, Sertoma Centre, Inc., and Amy McNicholas, LCPC, Illinois Manager Faith and Health Partnerships, Advocate Aurora Health

While the holiday season can be a time of joy, fun, and family, it is common for people to feel overwhelmed or experience stress, anxiety, and sadness during this time of year. The death of a loved one, illness, or feelings of loss and isolation can contribute to those feelings, as can entering a second holiday season with the pandemic still in sight.

We can manage stress and anxiety during the holidays – and beyond - by incorporating healthy self-care practices into our daily lives: 
  • getting enough sleep and rest
  • eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • finding a way to decompress throughout the day
  • giving some thought to changing a difficult work situation
  • identifying what they enjoy doing and making a serious effort to integrate it into their day 
  • feeding their spiritual self

Self-care tips during COVID-19:
  • Keep yourself busy with books, games, and movies 
  • Focus on relaxation techniques 
  • Connect through calls, texts, and internet
  • Avoid excessive media coverage 
  • Add extra time for daily stress relief 

Questions for those still struggling with how to practice self-care:
  • What makes me feel nourished and re-energized?
  • What is something I enjoy?
  • What routines/rituals are important to me?
  • What makes me feel anxious or drained?
  • What boundaries could I create (or dissolve) to support my wellness?

Self-care not only can help you better manage stress, it also can increase empathy, bolster the immune system, and help avoid burnout, anxiety, and depression. And it doesn’t take a lot of money or time!

If you are interested in hosting a mental health presentation, contact Amy McNicholas, Illinois Manager, Faith and Health Partnerships, Advocate Aurora Health.
Helping combat social isolation

Courtesy: National Institute on Aging

You can protect yourself from the negative effects of loneliness and social isolation by staying active and engaging in meaningful, productive activities you can enjoy with others.

Other suggestions include:

  • Find an activity you enjoy, restart an old hobby, or take a class to learn something new.
  • Schedule time each day to stay in touch with family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Talk with people you trust to share your feelings. Suggest an activity to help nurture and strengthen existing relationships.
  • Consider adopting a pet if you are able to care for them. Animals can be a source of comfort and may also lower stress and blood pressure.
  • Stay physically active and include group exercise, such as joining a walking club or working out with a friend.
  • Check out resources and programs at your local social service agencies, community and senior centers, and public libraries.
  • Join a cause and get involved in your community.

Building connections: ‘the heart of what we do’

Since 2019, partners in the Avondale Faith and Health Collaborative, Chicago, have worked together to offer food, vaccines, masks, clothing, mental health support and other resources to help residents in the greater Avondale area live well.

But the Collaborative does much more than that, says Amy McNicholas, Illinois manager of Faith and Health Partnerships, Advocate Aurora Health. “We also build connections and relationships with community members,” she said. “That’s the heart of what we do.”

The Avondale Faith and Health Collaborative is based on the companionship movement – a ministry of presence and relationship-building that is rooted in our natural capacities as human beings to be sensitive, compassionate, and concerned.

This has been especially true throughout the pandemic, says Nilda Garcia, faith community nurse with Advocate Aurora Health. “We have been building relationships with community members at a time when we all have been feeling isolated,” she said.

For example, Nilda and Graciela Vargas, community connector with Advocate Aurora Health, have accompanied residents impacted by the pandemic’s economic downturn by linking them to utility and rent assistance, donated clothing, diapers, and food, and other resources.

Some of the donations have come from Avondale-area residents who wanted to give back as a way to say thank you for the assistance they received from the Collaborative in the past.

“Anyone one of us could be receiving or giving,” Graciela said. “It’s about bounty and what we can afford to give. When our cup overflows, we can give to someone else. It’s not about charity, but dignity.”

“That’s the power of relationship and mutuality,” Amy added. “Giving to someone just may be the nourishment someone needs.”

Bringing warmth and cheer to Avondale residents

During the Collaborative’s November food market at St. Nicolai United Church of Christ, Chicago, residents received nutritious food, as well as donated coats and clothing.

At an upcoming food market, adults and children will receive Christmas stockings filled with socks (one of the most-requested clothing items), thanks to Kiki Collins, Director of Mission Impact, Concordia Place, and other Collaborative partners who acquired the donations and assembled the stockings.

In addition, Collaborative partners teamed up with Roseland Community Hospital to offer the COVID19 booster shot and flu vaccine for individuals age 5 and older at a weekly community meal.

At the Collaborative’s November food market at St. Nicolai United Church of Christ, Chicago, Avondale-area residents received nutritious food, as well as donated coats and clothing.
Prayer walk guide can help you refuel, refresh and restore your soul 

The next time you’re in search of a more peaceful pace to life, take a walk through one of Chicago’s neighborhoods, stop at a work of public art, and offer a prayer based on what you’re experiencing in that moment. That’s the idea behind Priscilla Rodriquez’s award-winning project that gives anyone a way to refuel, refresh and restore their souls virtually or in-person. Using a prayer guide and one of several websites, anyone can visit public art places in Chicago and turn them into sacred spaces for praying, reflecting and listening to the musings of the heart. And individuals can also do an online search for public art in their cities.
Priscilla Rodriquez at “Word Dealers,” a mural painted by John Vergara and located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.
“I’ve always loved art and I’m a visual learner,” said Rodriquez, MAM ’16, who serves as coordinator for McCormick’s Centers. “Chicago is filled with many expressions of public art and mosaics that tell a powerful story and also speak to issues of social justice, human rights, anti-racism, anti-violence, and other critical issues. The great news is that much of the public art is accessible virtually.”

Upcoming events

Jan. 30, 2022, 4:00-5:00 p.m.
Light dinner with discussion, 5:00-5:30 p.m.
St. Barnabas Lutheran Church Family Life Center
8901 Cary Algonquin Rd., Cary, IL

Maybe you held it together during the holidays, but now in the middle of a dark winter, you realize just how much grief you're feeling. What do you do with it? Join us in an engaging discussion on grief and loss, and how to deal with it.

All are welcome to this free event, which will be held both in person and on Zoom.

Resources for you and your faith community
Faith and Mental Health Specialist offers clergy consultations, well-being resources, and more

Amy McNicholas, LCPC, Faith and Mental Health Specialist and Manager of Faith and Health Partnerships, Illinois, is committed to supporting the emotional well-being of faith communities through a variety of programs and services:
  • Individual clergy consultations
  • Informational webinars (topics to fit your needs)
  • Online support groups
  • Virtual Mental Health First Aid
  • Emotional well-being resources

Please email or call if you need support: amy.mcnicholas@aah.org or 630-929-9103.

Behavioral healthcare resources
Advocate Health Care


Behavioral healthcare resources
Aurora Health Care


Hotlines and Locator Tools

Support Hotlines

  • NAMI Chicago Helpline: 833-NAMI-CHI
  • NAMI Greater Milwaukee Helpline: 414-257-7222
  • Free Emotional Support line: text “talk” to 552020, and a counselor from a local community mental health center will call you within 24 hours. 
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
  • Bright Star Community Outreach Trauma Hotline: Chicago-based toll-free number: 833-TURN123

Locator Tools
Resiliency Resources
Advocate Aurora Local Services Guide

Ever have a congregational member look to you for a referral for services? Or have a family that needs extra support and you aren’t sure where to send them? Need to know more about programs that are available in the neighborhood you are serving? Advocate Aurora Health recognizes the need for an up-to-date, reliable, tested list of community services that are easily accessed with a click of a button.

The Advocate Aurora Health Local Services Guide, powered by NowPow, allows you to find free and low-cost options for food, safe housing, child care, transportation and more.

This resource can help you support the people you serve and it’s provided free-of-charge to you!


The National Alliance on Mental Illness Blog covers the latest mental health research, stories of recovery, and strategies for living well.

The blog includes insights from individuals living with mental illness in a faith-community context. Feel free to share these, and other blogs, with your faith community:




If you or a member of your faith community would like to share a story of how mental illness has affected their life, click here.

NAMI FaithNet is an interfaith resource network of NAMI members, friends, clergy and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to encourage faith communities who are welcoming and supportive of persons and families living with mental illness. NAMI FaithNet promotes the vital role of spirituality in the recovery journeys of many who live with mental health conditions, those for whom faith is a key component.
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Want to hear from you!

We hope you find this update helpful as you promote the health of your members and community. Please contact Amy McNicholas or Cindy Novak if you have questions or topics you'd like us to address. Thank you!
Faith and Mental Health Quarterly provides updates on mental health resources, events and news to support the well-being of people in your congregation and community. Please contact Cindy Novak if you have news to share, topics you'd like addressed or if you have questions or concerns. Thank you!
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