Help for the Holidays: A Guide to Seasonal Self-Care


The holiday season is an exciting and picturesque time filled with joyous celebrations, family gatherings and long-awaited traditions. But behind the rose-colored glasses therein lies an intense pressure to create picture perfect memories that can leave us feeling totally drained. If this sounds all too familiar, fear not. Your Holiday Survival Guide awaits you!



Seasonal Struggles

It’s not uncommon for mental health issues to spike around the holidays. According to numbers from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people living with a mental illness have felt that their conditions worsen around the holidays. The highest rates of child psychiatric hospitalizations also happen in the winter, according to the same report. 

Common mental health issues around the holidays include seasonal affective disorder (SAD), loneliness, grief and loss, financial stress, family conflicts and trauma. On top of this, the stress of gift giving, overloaded schedules due to holiday celebrations and events, and the pressure of having a “picture perfect” holiday season can be a pressure cooker for our mental wellbeing. 

Whether someone is facing worsening long-term mental health problems or short-term mental health problems, these issues need to be taken seriously. Left untouched, they can lead to clinical anxiety and depression. 



Practicing Self-Care

There are many things we can do to improve our mental health around the holidays—including therapy, self-care and rest. 

Here are some of the top seasonal mental health issues—and what you can do about them.


Lack of “Holiday Spirit”

The pressure to be joyful, social and in the “holiday spirit” can make it more difficult to recognize we’re struggling and to seek help. You don’t have to force yourself to feel happy or fake happiness around others. Try not to judge yourself or feel guilty for having these feelings. Many people also feel this way.

Identifying triggers and getting to the root cause of why you feel anxious or sad around the holidays can help you process and accept these feelings in a healthy way. Avoid numbing your feelings with alcohol or other substances—these can actually worsen depression and anxiety. Talk to others who feel the same way or who are a solid support system.


Social Pressure

The increase in social events during this season can lead to overwhelm and burnout—especially for introverts or those with social anxiety. Know that it’s okay to not attend every event and to turn down invitations. Accept your limitations. Schedule time for self-care and alone time. Prioritize what events or celebrations are most important to you. Make time for guilt-free rest. Realize that you can’t do it all—no one can.


Financial Pressure & Strain

Plan ahead by deciding on a budget and sticking to it. If you’re unable to give gifts this year, be honest and let people know. Suggest doing Secret Santa or a White Elephant Gift Exchange to reduce financial burden and the number of gifts you need to get.

Make homemade gifts from the heart instead of blowing your budget on store bought items. Clearly communicate your financial limitations and stick to your financial boundaries—especially if others are pressuring you. Help out a neighbor, loved one or stranger. Know that generosity isn’t determined by how much money you spend on others. The act of giving is more important than any dollar amount.


Grief & Loss

Grief and loss can be especially difficult to deal with during this time—especially if you’ve lost someone around the holidays. Don’t compare your situation to others or expect yourself to grieve a certain way. You don’t have to force yourself to celebrate if that’s not what feels right. Let your friends and family know when you need help, and what they can do to help. Speak to a therapist or join a support group.



Feeling lonely around the holidays is very common—and the pressure to have a close knit family or romantic relationship only makes it worse. Rethinking your expectations of what the holidays “should” look like can drastically help with loneliness. Try reaching out to friends or neighbors, or volunteering. Limit social media use is a helpful way to stop comparing yourself to others. Know that it’s perfectly fine to take a friend to a holiday party or to go alone.

Despite what holiday movies make it seem, many people have strained relationships with their families. It’s perfectly normal to not have a romantic relationship during this time (or any time!) of the year. 

It’s also perfectly fine to participate in holiday traditions or celebrations by yourself—and to even make your own traditions. Spend time focusing on the positives in your life and doing things that make you happy.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

For some, lack of sunlight and shorter winter days can cause seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that happens in cold months. Sticking to a routine, using a light therapy lamp, and medication and therapy can all help with SAD symptoms. Check out this blog post for more ways to help with SAD.



Final Thoughts

This bustling holiday season, don’t forget to give yourself the gift of self-care and much-needed rest. Often, when it feels like there’s no time for these things is when we need them the most.

In addition to the tips featured throughout this blog, therapy and medication are excellent resources when dealing with mental health issues.

At Valera Health, we offer a variety of mental health services from experienced, licensed physicians. Our services include virtual individual therapy, group therapy, psychiatry and medication management. 

We have several remote therapy and support groups to help with grief and loss, depression, anxiety, loneliness and more—as well as a seasonal Holiday Support Group. Check out our group therapy page to learn more. 

If you’re interested in signing-up for one of our services, visit or click here to request a free consultation with a dedicated Health Connector who will help you find the right provider for you.

9 Tips for Seasonal Affective Disorder

As the sun goes down earlier and temperatures drop, we find ourselves longing for sunshine and warm weather. However, for some individuals, seasonal changes bring more than just a longing for summer again, and can cause the onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Seasonal affective disorder occurs in cases where “…these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). SAD begins and ends around the same time each year, and typically resolves in the spring to summer months.

Fortunately, there are a handful of ways to relieve the symptoms of SAD that can be done from the comfort of your own home. You don’t have to wait until the warmer months come around to experience relief.

Tips for Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Tip #1: Get a light therapy lamp. 

This type of lamp is specifically made to treat conditions like SAD. Because of the amount of light intensity they produce, light therapy lamps have the ability to mimic sunlight, which in return triggers positive mental and biological effects. Experts recommend that you should slowly ease into the use of your light therapy lamp, gradually leading up to using this light for about a half an hour per day. They also find it crucial to expose yourself to some light in the morning (before 10 a.m.)  so depressive thoughts and effects subside early on. 

Tip #2: Wake up & go to bed with a dawn simulator.

Dawn simulators—a.k.a. sunrise alarms—are alarm clocks designed to help you improve sleep by waking up and going to bed gradually. By using timed lights, they mimic how the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, tuning in with natural circadian rhythm patterns. Dawn simulators are known for benefits such as boosting energy, improving sleep and decreasing stress levels.

Tip #3: Exercise.

Exercise is one of the best ways to release feel-good endorphins—a fast acting mood booster. Exercise can help ease feelings of depression and anxiety. Getting enough exercise is also a great way to calm down and clear the mind. During winter and fall months, gyms provide a solid place to exercise without having to brave chilly weather. Or, if you prefer to stay in, these at-home exercises will get you moving.

Tip #4: Journal.

Journaling can help you release your thoughts and feelings, which in turn can help improve anxiety and mood levels. We recommend utilizing specialized journal prompts designed for those experiencing SAD in mind—one one of which can be downloaded here.

Tip #5: Limit alcohol consumption.

When you’re experiencing constant low moods, it can be easy to turn to alcohol for comfort. However, this is actually counterproductive as drinking when depressed can result in worsening depressive symptoms and spiraling negative thoughts. Although it may be tempting, It’s important to be conscientious of how much you’re drinking and how it makes you feel so you don’t end up feeling even worse—both physically and psychologically.

Tip #6: Aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy—or diffusing or rolling essential oils—is a great way to quickly boost your mood and promote relaxation. Putting essential oils in a diffuser or taking an aromatic bath before bed are great ways to channel inner peace and calm.

Aromatherapy experts recommend these oils for improving SAD symptoms:

  1. Patchouli Oil (Pogostemon cablin)
  2. Bergamot Oil (Citrus bergamia)
  3. Cardamom Oil (Elettaria cardamomum)

For more oils that promote relaxation and help with depression symptoms, click here.

Tip #7: Stick to a schedule.

Schedules are crucial when dealing with SAD, as many individuals with this condition struggle with waking up and sleeping. Being able to keep a steady and regular schedule is very helpful when it comes to improving sleep quality and keeping your body in a balanced state throughout the day. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Keeping a regular schedule will also expose you to light at consistent and predictable times…which is beneficial for your circadian rhythm.”

Tip #8: Consider medication.

Antidepressants can be a helpful tool for combatting the depressive symptoms that come with SAD. If you’re considering going on antidepressants for SAD, make sure to consult your doctor first.

Tip #9: Try Therapy.

Therapy is a great way to learn coping strategies for managing and improving SAD symptoms. In therapy, you can learn new skills to help you navigate the emotional lows that come with SAD and receive much needed support during these difficult seasons.

Final Thoughts

At Valera Health, we offer virtual mental healthcare treatment tailored to each individual. Our services include individual therapy, group therapy, psychiatry and medication management—all of which can be effective tools for individuals with seasonal affective disorder. Our seasonal Holiday Support Group can help participants find relief and manage the unique struggles that come with this time of year such as SAD, stress, loneliness and more.

Whether you’re struggling with SAD or other mental health issues, we’re here to help you find the right provider for you. To request a free consultation with a Health Connector who can match you with a provider, visit or click here

Remember that seasonal affective disorder is temporary. By practicing self-care and being aware of your needs and challenges around SAD, you can find relief.

Works Referenced:

Beth W. Orenstein and Michelle Pugle. (n.d.). 14 ways to ease seasonal depression. 

Health, A. (2019, December 9). How to use light therapy for sad. Adventist Health.,some%20light%20before%2010%20a.m. 

Loeb, K. (2020, December 18). Tips for managing seasonal affective disorder (during a pandemic). Vail Health Foundation. 

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (n.d.). Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Mayo Clinic. 

Williams, K. (2023, October 7). 13 essential oils for seasonal affective disorder. Aromatics International.

5 Books You Need to Read This National Book Month

By Taylor Transtrum & Ellie Luciano 


Calling all bookworms! National Book Month has arrived—the time to celebrate literary magic, page-turning words and the joy of reading! Our therapists know first-hand the power that books can hold when it comes to our mental health—and lucky for you, they’ve decided to share their favorite fiction and nonfiction book selections to devour this October. Within each page you’ll find unique perspectives, invaluable lessons and journeys of introspection. Your new favorite book awaits you!



The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma 

Author: Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Selected by Abby Fink, LMSW, Clinical Program Manager, Group Therapy, Valera Health

Raved about by psychologists everywhere, this #1 New York Times Best Seller is a poignant read that offers keen insights into the science and research behind post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), innovative treatments, pathways to recovery and personal stories about PTSD survivors sure to tug at your heartstrings.



Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder

Author: Rachel Reiland

Selected by Kelly Finn, LCSW, Supervising Therapist and Team Lead, Valera Health

Get Me Out of Here is a gutting memoir that unveils the raw truth of what borderline personality disorder (BPD) feels like from the inside. Sparing no details, Rachel Reitland paints an intricate picture of how her BPD affects every aspect of her life. Even in Rachel’s darkest moments, readers of this book will find hope in her story and discover that with ongoing treatment and determination, healing is possible.

Bonus Read:

“For the comic book readers out there, many of the Wonder Woman graphic novels touch the topics of grief, forgiveness, and diversity—all of which can speak to those of us who struggle with mental health issues in our life.” — Kelly Finn, LCSW, Supervising Therapist and Team Lead at Valera Health



The Glass Castle: A Memoir

Author: Jeannette Walls

Selected by Victoria Abruzzo, LCSW, Associate Director of Clinical Operations and Supervising Therapist, Valera Health

Described by Entertainment Weekly as “nothing short of spectacular,” The Glass Castle tells the true story of the eccentric yet dysfunctional upbringing of Jeannette Walls. Raised by free-spirited and nomadic parents, Jeannette and her three siblings learned to fend for themselves at a young age, having only each other to lean on throughout their abnormal childhood. In an attempt to forget her difficult past, Jeannette buried these roots for two decades. Now, she’s ready to speak her truth in page-turning detail.



Happiness for Beginners

Author: Katherine Center

Selected by James Riter, LCSW, Supervising Therapist, Valera Health

After getting divorced at 32, Helen Carpenter struggles to piece her life back together. At the recommendation of her brother Duncan, Helen signs-up for an intense wilderness survival course in the backwoods of Wyoming. Despite her best wishes, it ends up being another disaster on top of a year filled with a seemingly endless stream of disasters. But within the struggle, Helen learns the beauty that can come when faced with life’s hardest challenges.

Brené Brown, professor and New York Times bestselling author, sings praise for this heartfelt novel: “This wise, delicious, page-turning novel won’t let you go. Katherine Center writes about falling down, growing up, and finding love like nobody else. You can always see yourself and the people you love in her characters and their stories.”



Turtles All the Way Down

Author: John Green

Selected by Ellie Luciano, Clinical Intern, Valera Health

Turtles All the Way Down is a favorite of mine as it’s eye opening, relatable and extremely descriptive. This story is an honest reminder that everyone is going through something whether you can see it or not, and every person’s mental health experience is uniquely theirs. Green does a phenomenal job at putting the harsh reality of living with anxiety and OCD into words through the main character Aza. Aza encompasses what OCD can feel like for many individuals and portrays what goes on in the mind of someone suffering with OCD and anxiety incredibly well—all through the in depth descriptions of compulsions, thought spirals, relationships, and dialogue.” — Ellie Luciano, Clinical Intern, Valera Health


You can find all of these fantastic book selections online, in stores or at your local library. For even more great reads, Valera Health offers a virtual book club centered around mental health through engaging discussions and book selections. Visit our group therapy page and calendar to join the next session or to explore other therapy groups (currently available in NY and MA). 

To schedule a free consultation with a Health Connector who can help you get started with group therapy, individual therapy or psychiatry/medication management, click here.


6 Mental Health Support Groups for College Students

Navigating college can be a stressful and confusing, yet exciting process—and mental health issues among college students are far more common than one might think. A 2023 report by the National Education Association (NEA) shows that mental health disorders are at an all time high among college students. As part of this report, over 90,000 students across 133 U.S. campuses participated in a mental health survey.

The NEA survey results show:

  • 44% of students reported depression symptoms
  • 37% students reported experiencing anxiety
  • 15% of students surveyed reported considering suicide (the highest rate in the survey’s 15-year history)

The college mental health crisis affects students of all backgrounds, all income levels, all genders and gender identities, all sexual orientations and all races. Which is why Valera Health offers a flexible and robust virtual group therapy program perfect for any college student. Part therapist-led, part peer-led, group members will find support among their peers—no matter what they are struggling with.

What therapy groups are available for college students?

  1. ADHD Support: ADHD can play a huge impact on our ability to navigate school, work and interpersonal relationships. In this supportive skills-based group, participants will learn practical skills for managing ADHD symptoms, maximizing motivation, building confidence, reducing stress, increasing energy and mood, improving relationships and optimizing daily functioning.
  2. Anxiety/Depression: School, work, life stressors, worries and additional troubles can cause impairments in our lives that are challenging to navigate, manage and cope with. In this adult therapy group, participants will learn skills to help them alleviate anxiety and depression through thought processing, mindfulness, social engagement, exposure, and CBT while using a strengths based and person centered approach. Participants will gain social skills, problem solving abilities, decision making efforts, and emotion regulation skills to help increase awareness, mood, energy, and positivity so that they can build self-esteem and confidence to live a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
  3. Intersectionality: This group provides a safe space for those who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) to freely express themselves amongst a group of their peers. Topics of discussion include trauma, microaggressions, workplace stress, relationships/partnerships and breaking the cycles of unhealthy parental relationships and more.
  4. LGBTQIA+ Support: Open for LGBTQIA+ identifying individuals, this collaborative, community-building and identity affirming group is peer and therapist-led. Together, we will focus on topics including coming out, late bloomers, navigating healthy relationships, communicating with family, building community, queer parenting, accessing gender-affirming care, kink, and non-monogamy. Nothing is off limits!
  5. Anxiety/Trauma: Presented through a trauma-informed lens, this group provides participants with a safe space to improve decision-making skills as well as discuss life transitions, work and/or school-related stress, relationship stress and more. Participants will work with both a therapist and their peers to develop coping strategies that will help them better navigate how to handle daily stressors and other triggers/symptoms of anxiety. Participants will also learn how trauma can impact our daily functioning, life goals and wellbeing and will learn strategies to help overcome these obstacles.
  6. Trauma Survivor Support: Created for young adults (ages 18-25)  who have experienced relational and/or sexual trauma, this group teaches participants a variety of coping skills for responding to and processing trauma. Among the many things participants will learn are self-validation techniques, how to address triggers and grounding techniques for dissociation/fight-or-flight trauma responses. Group participants will also learn how to reframe cognitive distortions and negative thoughts, basic self-care techniques, mindfulness, journaling techniques, how to discuss trauma with family and partners, and how to communicate relationship needs and difficulties around sex. 

How do I sign up?

At this time, the virtual groups listed above are only available in the state of New York. For our group therapy programs, we accept most major insurances as well as offer affordable self-pay rates ($42.50/session). Members must be 18+ to join. 

Valera Health also offers virtual individual therapy and psychiatry in 10 states and 20 languages. 

In addition, patients receive complimentary access to the Valera Health app, which is full of mental health resources and exercises, and access to live chats with your Care Team so that you can continue to make progress inside and outside of sessions. 

We accept most major insurances, Medicaid/Medicare and self-pay in order to make mental healthcare accessible and affordable for anyone in need.

If you’d like to join one of our therapy or support groups, or are interested in receiving individualized care, visit to schedule a free consultation with a Health Connector today! 

8 Ways to Support a Grieving Friend


Grief is a complex and powerful emotion. When the people close to us experience grief, it can be challenging to know how to support them in such a vulnerable state.  When supporting a loved one who is grieving, compassion and empathy are key. 

Everyone grieves differently—some people need a shoulder to cry on while others feel your love through home cooked meals or simply letting your friend know you’re available if they need to talk.

If you know someone struggling with grief, we’ve put together eight ways to help our friends during this fragile time in their lives. 


8 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend

  1. Have a sympathetic ear. One of the best ways to help a grieving friend is to simply listen to them. Allow them to feel safe in expressing their emotions, thoughts and needs. Avoiding jumping to putting a positive spin on things or offering advice (unless asked). Really take in what they are saying and let them feel heard. 
  2. Help out with meals. When dealing with grief, even getting out of bed each day can be a struggle, so having the energy to cook yourself or your family meals throughout the day can be extra challenging. Bringing your friend home cooked meals can make all the difference when supporting someone going through a difficult time.
  3. Extend a helping gesture. Grief can make everyday tasks so overwhelming that they seem impossible. Offer to help your friend with things they may feel uncomfortable asking you directly. This can be watching their kids for a couple hours, going grocery shopping, taking their pet for a walk, or helping with sorting through certain belongings.
  4. Check in often. It can be easy to feel like you’re being overbearing, but showing constant support and compassion can go a long way for someone who is grieving. A daily or weekly check in to see how they are feeling and how you can support them can help them feel seen, supported, and loved. 
  5. Validate their feelings. When helping someone through grief, it’s easy to jump to cliches like “time heals all wounds.” Instead, try to acknowledge the difficulty of their grief journey and validate how they feel in that moment. 
  6. Remember the big dates. Dates like one month or year anniversaries, holidays, or birthdays can be extremely difficult for those who have suffered loss. Reach out, whether it means a call, text, note, or showing up to celebrate and remember or mourn. 
  7. Offer to connect them to someone you know who may have gone through something similar. Sometimes one of the most helpful things when going through a hard time is talking to someone who has been through the same experience. Connecting two friends who have gone through similar losses can be extremely helpful for them both. 
  8. Support them in talking to a professional if needed. Grief can be overwhelming and a long process for many. If you notice your friend really struggling to cope,  encourage them to see a professional and offer to look for a professional with them, or even join them for their first session. 


Suggesting a grief therapy support group is another great way to help a friend through this difficult time. 

Valera Health offers multiple virtual grief and loss group therapy for individuals living in the state of New York. In these groups, participants will gain mutual support, have a safe space to process their feelings, and learn coping mechanisms to help them through the stages of grief.  Learn more about the benefits of joining a grief support group here

Supporting a friend through grief is a testament to the strength of our friendships and depths of our compassion and sympathy. While we navigate the terrain of loss alongside our grieving friends, it’s important to remember to be kind and help them toward healing and renewal at their own pace.

5 Empowering Quotes About Women’s Equality

Women’s strength, resilience, courage and compassion radiates throughout every corner of the world. 

This August we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, held on August 26, which commemorates the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote—a result of the tireless efforts of the women’s suffrage movement. It’s in their honor that we share our favorite quotes about women’s empowerment from five incredible women. 

We hope these words serve as a reminder to embrace the power within all of us!




“Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.” — Maya Angelou




“Women don’t need to find a voice, they have a voice, and they need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.” — Meghan Markle




“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” — Ruth Bader Ginsburg




“We all have an unsuspected reserve of strength inside that emerges when life puts us to the test.” — Isabel Allende




“Behind every great woman…is another great woman.” — Kate Hodges


At Valera Health, we believe the best way to create a world where we are all treated as equals is by taking action. Learn more about what you can do to support gender equality at


Summer SAD: What it Is & How to Cope

Sunshine, pool parties, backyard BBQs, clear blue skies, blooming flowers and picnics in the park come to mind when envisioning the much-anticipated summer season. But for some, as the temperatures rise and the sun comes out from hiding, so does increased stress and lowered moods. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is traditionally associated with crisp fall and frosty winter months—but its summer sibling can be just as dangerous. So what can you do if you’ve got a case of summertime SADness? Keep reading to learn more.


What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—also referred to as major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern—is a mood disorder marked by recurrent episodes of depressive symptoms in late fall and winter or in the summer, with alternating periods of normal (non-depressive) moods during the rest of the year. 

Research has shown that seasonal changes are the most likely cause of SAD because they can potentially cause chemical imbalances in the brain associated with depression and other mood disorders. However, the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is unknown. 

Low levels of vitamin D and shorter days are also a possible factor of SAD in colder months, while conversely, long hours of sunlight may cause SAD in warmer months.



Summer SAD vs. Winter SAD

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder may start out mild but increase and become more noticeable as the season progresses. While both winter-pattern SAD and summer-pattern have some overlapping symptoms, there are key differences between the two.


General Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms:

  • Feeling sad or in a low mood most of the time
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Losing interest in favorite hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or feeling lethargic
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased motivation
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite changes


Additional Summer-Pattern SAD Symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; insomnia
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Weight loss
  • Increased irritability or agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior 


Additional Winter-Pattern SAD Symptoms:

  • Sleeping more than normal; oversleeping
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Regular cravings for foods that are high in fat or carbohydrates
  • Weight gain


Those with bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of developing seasonal affective disorder, and can experience differing or additional symptoms of SAD than those without bipolar disorder. 

An article by the Mayo Clinic states: 

“In some people with bipolar disorder, episodes of mania may be linked to a specific season. For example, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), anxiety, agitation and irritability. They may also experience depression during the fall and winter months.”


Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If you’re experiencing symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, take them seriously. SAD can interfere with things such as school, work or interpersonal relationships, and can negatively affect your quality of life. 

While it’s important to be mindful of the signs or symptoms you’re experiencing, you also shouldn’t self-diagnose because there could be other health issues at play. 

A general physician can help you rule out other potential health issues, such as thyroid disorders, through medical tests (including blood tests). If your symptoms aren’t being caused by a thyroid disorder or other medical issue, a therapist and/or psychiatrist can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment. 

At home options for managing symptoms are available, but should not be used as a replacement for medical intervention from a professional. 


Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms in the Summer:

#1 Identify Triggers

Watch out for and make note of triggers that cause a spike in your symptoms. Therapists are great at working with patients to identify triggers and come up with coping strategies around these triggers.

#2 Prioritize Sleep

Since decreased sleep and other sleep disturbances are a common symptom of summer-pattern SAD, extra work needs to be put into place to make sure we are sleeping well. Check out this blog post to learn how to create a solid sleep routine. 

#3 Create a Daily Routine

Following a structured daily routine can help combat stress and improve focus. Write your routine down in a calendar or planner, set alarms to help you stay on schedule, display your routine throughout your home, and lean on loved ones to hold you accountable.

#4 Stay Cool

Use air-conditioning to improve your mood and sleep quality. If you have access to a lake, creek, river or pool, go for a swim. Limit time outside in the heat and exposure to sunlight, dress appropriately for the weather, and wear a sunhat. Find fun indoor activities (such as bowling or going to the movies) to fill your time.

#5 Drink Water—Lots of Water!

Dehydration can make us feel crappy in more ways than one, and can cause both physical and emotional health issues. When we drink enough water, it becomes easier to remain both physically, emotionally and mentally stable. Incorporate drinking water into your routine, keep a big water bottle with you at all times, and track how much water you’re drinking in comparison to how much water (at minimum) you should be drinking. 

#6 Don’t Forget to Eat

Since decreased appetite is a symptom of SAD, it can be hard to make sure we’re nourishing ourselves properly during this time. Plan quick, healthy meals and snacks in advance and set alarms as reminders to eat. 


Remember that what you’re feeling is normal! It can be extra hard to feel depressed during a time when we’re “supposed” to feel happy and have fun. Depression happens to a lot of us, and it can happen to anyone at any time. What you’re going through isn’t a choice, but you do have tools available to help you feel your best and manage your symptoms. 

Therapy and medication management are effective ways to treat seasonal affective disorder. For further support, consider Valera Health’s virtual mental healthcare services which include individual therapy, group therapy, psychiatry, medication management and more.

Call 646-450-7748 to talk to a dedicated Health Connector who can help you start your wellness journey with a provider tailored to you.

The Impact of Sleep on Mental Health

Getting a good night of quality sleep is essential for not only our physical well being, but our mental wellbeing as well. 

An article by Helpline shares that sleep deprivation can lead to a host of problems including memory issues; trouble with thinking, focus and concentration; an increased risk for accidents; negative mood changes; a weakened immune system; high blood pressure; low-sex drive; weight gain; increased risk of heart disease; poor balance/coordination; and an increased risk for developing diabetes. Yikes. 

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent these issues and get better sleep. Read on to learn more about the brain and body connection between sleep and mental health—and how to improve both.



The Link Between Sleep & Pre-Existing Mental Health Disorders

According to the Sleep Foundation, research shows that there is a close connection between sleep and mental health. 

The article goes on to say, “Each stage [of sleep] plays a role in brain health, allowing activity in different parts of the brain to ramp up or down and enabling better thinking, learning, and memory. Research has also uncovered that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on emotional and mental health.”

Those with pre-existing mental health disorders are more likely to be impacted by poor sleep quality and not getting enough sleep in the first place, than those who are neurotypical (a.k.a. people who don’t have behavioral or mental health conditions, or those with developmental disabilities). A strong link has been shown between sleep and different mental health disorders and developmental disorders including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), anxiety disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder(s), schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Around 75% of people with a depressive disorder (such as major depression), for example, show symptoms of insomnia.

While poor sleep can worsen symptoms of these mental health disorders, the opposite is also true—these mental illnesses themselves can also cause poor sleep. 

“There is evidence of a bidirectional relationship between sleep and ADHD,” according to the Sleep Foundation. “In addition to being a consequence of ADHD, sleep problems may aggravate symptoms like reduced attention span or behavior problems.”



Benefits of Getting Good Sleep

Just as poor sleep can worsen mental health, good sleep can improve overall mental health. The benefits for our mental health of getting quality sleep are numerous. A good sleep routine will help lead to high-quality sleep, resulting in reduced stress levels, improved mood, more energy, less anxiety, improved focus and memory.

So what is good sleep? Well, “good sleep” isn’t just the amount of sleep you’re getting, but the quality of your sleep as well. Optimal sleep entails getting enough of both REM and non-REM sleep cycles. 

What is REM? This acronym stands for rapid eye movement sleep. During this stage of sleep, eyes move around rapidly in a range of directions without sending visual cues to the brain. REM sleep usually kicks in about 90 minutes after you’ve fallen asleep, with multiple periods of REM sleep occurring throughout the night, each one longer than the last. REM sleep is crucial for dreaming, deep sleep, and brain activity during the sleep cycle.

Non-REM sleep, on the other hand, is needed for REM sleep to take place. In the final stage of non-REM sleep, your body regrows and repairs tissues, builds bones and muscles and strengthens the immune systems.

Think of REM sleep and non-REM sleep as two halves of a whole: They go hand in hand to help your brain and your body function properly. 

It’s a balancing act getting just enough of both REM and non-REM sleep. Hence why getting enough sleep—but not too much sleep—is the goal. Because of this, doctors generally recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. 

For more information about what happens during these different sleep cycles, check out this article by WebMD. 



Tips for Better Sleep

Good news—there are plenty of scientifically backed ways to improve your quality of sleep.

Here are Our Tips for Improving Your Sleep:

  1. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and night—even on the weekends. It may take some time, but this will help your body set its own internalized clock, resulting in more restful sleep and more energy in the morning.
  2. Avoid screens at least an hour before bedtime. This is because the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm making it harder to fall asleep.
  3. Be mindful about the media you consume before bedtime—negative content (such as watching a distressing movie or the news) before bedtime can result in bad dreams and interrupted sleep.
  4. Create a relaxing bedtime routine that you do every night. Over time, this will create a signal for your brain and body that it’s time to sleep. Reading a book, drinking a cup of non-caffeinated tea, taking a bath, or practicing mindfulness meditation are great places to start.
  5. Create a comfortable sleeping environment by getting a comfy bed and pillow set-up, and sleeping in a quiet, cool and dark environment. A sleeping mask, ear plugs or a white noise machine can also be used to achieve an ideal bedtime state.
  6. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps improve sleep quality and promotes restfulness. However, avoid working out close to bedtime as it can trigger your brain and body to be active.
  7. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption, especially in the couple of hours before going to bed.


If you need more help with your mental health, therapy is a great place to start. To learn more about Valera Health’s virtual therapy services and more, request a free consultation with a designated Health Connector or visit


Valera Health’s Anxiety and Trauma Group Can Help Survivors Heal—Here’s How

When one thinks of group therapy, a circle of folding chairs and stale coffee at the back of the room may come to mind. However, contrary to stereotypical depictions, group therapy presents an opportunity to heal and embrace change among peers.

The efficacy of group therapy in generating positive outcomes is widely supported in scientific literature (McRoberts et al. 1998). But what makes group therapy effective at addressing distressing feelings? One factor for consideration is cohesion, the degree to which a group connects together. The greater the level of cohesion, the more that group members will experience beneficial results (Burlingame et al., 2011). 

Engagement in a cohesive therapy group can generate feelings of community, group membership, belongingness and support. Furthermore, group therapy meetings can function as a learning environment in which a therapist can share helpful resources, members can learn from the stories of their peers, and most people in the group improve their communication skills.

Benefits of Group Therapy for Anxiety and for Trauma Survivors

Group therapy has shown to be especially helpful when it comes to decreasing anxiety and trauma symptoms (Mendelsohn et al., 2008). Survivors of trauma often experience isolation and may withdraw from relationships. Group therapy can address this particular issue by creating a sense of community in which the survivor feels safe and supported (Mendelsohn et al., 2008). 

Additionally, for those experiencing anxiety, group therapy can be helpful by providing a safe space where fears and worries are validated. Valera Health is pleased to introduce the newest addition to our group therapy programs: Anxiety and Trauma Group. This virtual group was designed to be a safe space for patients to discuss life transitions, school stress, stress around relationships, and the challenges that arise with decision-making. Another focus of the group is using coping skills to navigate daily stressors and other symptoms of anxiety. If you are experiencing anxiety or trauma-related symptoms, we encourage you to consider joining this group.

How to Enroll in a Valera Health Anxiety and Trauma Group

If you’re interested in signing up for Valera Health’s virtual Anxiety and Trauma Group, or would like to learn more, please fill out this quick form to schedule a consultation with a designated Health Connector. Make sure to select “group therapy” under the “What brings you to therapy today?” section. Please note that at this current time, our virtual Anxiety and Trauma Support Group* is only available to those in New York. Stay tuned for more group therapy offerings from Valera Health in the future.

*Although most health insurances are accepted, HealthFirst patients are ineligible for insurance coverage at this time.

Works Cited:

Burlingame, G. M., McClendon, D. T., & Alonso, J. (2011). Cohesion in group therapy. Psychotherapy, 48(1), 34.

McRoberts, C., Burlingame, G. M., & Hoag, M. J. (1998). Comparative efficacy of individual and group psychotherapy: A meta-analytic perspective. Group dynamics: Theory, research, and practice, 2(2), 101.

Mendelsohn, M., Zachary, R. S., & Harney, P. A. (2007). Group therapy as an ecological bridge to new community for trauma survivors. Journal of aggression, maltreatment & trauma, 14(1-2), 227-243.

This Valentine’s Day, Write a Love Letter to Yourself

Valentine’s Day is best known for being a romantic holiday—but you don’t need a romantic partner to celebrate, because love comes in all forms! That’s why this Valentine’s Day, we’re putting the focus on self-love. What is self-love? It’s much more than a buzzword—in fact, self-love can lead to a better life and more fulfilling mental state. 

A blog post by PsychCentral puts it this way, “Self-love means that you accept yourself fully, treat yourself with kindness and respect, and nurture your growth and wellbeing.Self-love encompasses not only how you treat yourself but also your thoughts and feelings about yourself.”

One facet of self-love is saying positive things about yourself. Regardless of your relationship status, this Valentine’s Day we challenge you to exercise this important practice of self-love by expressing your gratitude for yourself by writing a love letter to yourself.


How to Write a Love Letter to Yourself

Start with the following prompt:

“Dear [insert your name here],

I’m wishing you a very happy Valentine’s Day! I’m a wonderful person, worth being grateful for. 

Here are 10 things I love about myself:

  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…
  • I love…


[insert your name here]”

Be sure to write 10 or more things you love about yourself. Take time to really think these through—especially if you’ve had a hard time feeling confident lately. These can be either things about your personality and strengths, or physical attributes, but we’ve personally found including a combination of the two helps for a holistic self-love fest. 

Sometimes we are much more judgemental about ourselves than we would ever be about a stranger or a friend. Think about writing this letter to yourself as if you were your best friend or your secret admirer. 

To make your love letter extra special, buy a pretty Valentine’s Day card to write it on or bust out a fancy piece of stationery paper. Although you can type up your letter if you prefer, we recommend handwriting it with your favorite pen to make it extra special. Don’t forget to seal it in an envelope and write your name on it! Then on Valentine’s Day, open up the envelope and soak up the self-love.


Other Ways to Practice Self-Love This Valentine’s Day

In addition to writing a love letter for yourself, there are plenty of other ways to celebrate you this Valentine’s Day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Buy yourself a fresh bouquet of red roses or your favorite flowers
  • Munch on some Valentine’s Day candy—there’s something special about those heart shaped boxes of chocolate!
  • Take yourself out on a date—head to your favorite restaurant, cook yourself a nice meal, or head to the movie theater to watch that new film you’ve been wanting to see! 
  • Take a long bath with scented bath bombs and candles
  • Get a massage
  • Buy yourself a Valentine’s Day gift
  • Do whatever your favorite thing is—today is your day!

Check out our blog post all about the long-term benefits of self-care for more ideas. 


How Therapy Can Help You Practice Self-Love

Still struggling with self-love? Therapy can help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of therapy for improving low self-esteem. At Valera Health, our therapists are highly experienced in CBT as well as many other forms of therapy. To learn more, request a free consultation with a designated health connector or visit