This piece was co-authored with Jennifer Clark, LMSW.
Ah, the Holidays. The “Silly Season.” I do wonder how much more mad the regular holiday madness will be as we continue to contend with issues of COVID-19 and other global stressors.
Pandemic puts a big magnifying glass on existing stressors. The frustrations that one normally feels–the family stuff, all the feelings of sadness, loneliness, or grief–all of it is likely to feel worse than usual. I’m not telling you this to induce despair. I’m telling you this so you can be ready and rationally know that what you’re feeling is likely normal, and that there’s actually less reason for despair than you want to make yourself believe.
But, the Silly Season being what it is, some of us will simply have a harder time of it than others. Seasonal Affective Disorder may kick in, further complicating things. So here’s what I’m asking you to do:
Check On Each Other
Reach out and touch someone. Maybe set a goal for yourself, something like two or three reach-outs a week. It’s important that we keep up our social connections and lift each other closer towards whatever relief is on the horizon. Check on each other. The simple act of being asked “Hey, how are you doing?” can be a relief all by itself, never mind the heartfelt conversation that may follow. So please do not isolate, and please try to help others stay connected.
So, here we are, social distancing. We are working from home. We are ordering take out. We are staying away from our favorite exhibits, restaurants, and events. If you’re like us, you miss people. And even if you’re just a massive introvert, social contact is still a part of healthy living.
Social Isolation and Loneliness are Serious Health Issues
A Brigham Young University study suggests that the conditions of isolation or loneliness can be as bad as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. But the public health world adamantly maintains isolating is the right way to flatten the curve of contagion. And they’re right. Isolating is the right thing to do, even if it makes us a little loopy. But you are not alone. The whole world is isolating with you. Maddening paradox, right? Look, even if we’re not physically together, we will pull through this pandemic together. Here’s our recipe for doing this the right way. This is a long recipe, but you’re worth it. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
Stay Informed, But…
If you have to watch the news, partake mindfully. Consider seeking out news online or via newspaper rather than by listening to the radio or watching TV. When you use a live medium, the news–good or bad–pours over you without any control, and it’s sometimes difficult to filter out the unnecessary sensationalism. If something triggering is announced on your television, it’s all over you before you can stop it. If you choose to read your news instead of watching or listening, you can pick and choose your sources and the articles you follow up on.
And if you do get your news online, remember almost all news agencies make a profit off of your clicks. The headlines are as sensational as possible to get that click. Often the article itself is less interesting, or the headline might even be misleading. Screen your sources. We encourage you to be very critical of the news, in general. If you are reading about COVID-19, we strongly encourage you to stick with information from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, or the National Institutes of Health. Sometimes your local department of public health (usually a county-level entity) will have relevant, local updates, too.
Take Your Meds
If you have been prescribed medications, keep taking them on schedule. I know we tell you this over and over, but it’s true. You can’t keep healthy if you don’t practice your baseline health measures.
Stay on Schedule
Try to stay on a steady schedule. Circadian disruption seems almost unavoidable, but it’s important to keep a healthy schedule. If you don’t have a good schedule, adopt one for yourself today. Right now. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety and you stay awake in the dark, gaming all night and sleeping-in all day, this is assuredly going to make things worse for you as we get deeper into quarantine. Don’t catch up on the news just before you go to bed. By the way, sleep is critical to keeping your immune system happy.
Also, while we are talking about daylight, get out in it. Sitting in your backyard or on your front step still practices safe social distancing and gets you out in the light. Do you do the meditation thing? It’s a great time to do some mindfulness exercises. Maybe even some yoga. Listen to the birds–they’re happy Spring is here. Can you see the newly growing tree buds? Feel the grass under your feet?
Consume books, movies, and music that lift you up and inspire you. Be aware of your choices and avoid selections that might feed anger, despair, or loneliness. We’re not going to judge you for watching Contagion back-to-back five times in five days if it was already your favorite movie. If your jam is Childish Gambino’s “This is America” and that gets you motivated, go you! But if it makes you stabby, another choice might be better.