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.
This post is authored by By Jennifer Clark, LMSW and Mickey Desai.
In Usagi Medical Group’s ongoing series to help you maximize your con-going experience, we’ve compiled a short list of tips and resources that you may find useful if you or someone you know is suffering from some variety of mental-health issues during your con. These issues are not always easy to identify, and may range from anxiety attacks to self-esteem problems, addictions to body-image issues, or even just good old-fashioned depression.
A quick reminder that the UsagiMed room(s) are always available as Safe Spaces to anyone who needs them. UsagiMed provides non-judgmental service and support and welcomes anyone who feels they need a safe, quiet place to rest at any time during the con. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed-out, isolated (yes, it happens in crowds), just need to chill out, or need someone to talk to, visit the UsagiMed people at your con.
Your con may have additional spaces: At Anime Weekend Atlanta, Safe Spaces are designated with a teal ribbon (which is the ribbon for anxiety and ptsd awareness) and the words “Safe Space” on them. Hospitality Services offers space to both crew and con goers. Accessibility Services has designated areas as well. Check with your convention to see what resources are available.
If you or someone you know is struggling, here are some quick tips and coping strategies:
Get connected. In the world of mental-health, even tiny moments of connection and understanding can have a tremendous impact for someone who might be struggling. It is too easy to suffer silently. It may seem preferable to isolate. Instead, reach out to your friends–the people you trust. There’s no harm in saying, “I’m having a hard time with this. I think I need a minute.”
Similarly, let your friends know you care. If you should happen to see someone struggling, don’t try to fix them. Ask them if they’re okay. If they want to talk about it, just listen. Don’t offer solutions. Don’t try to diagnose. Don’t try to fix anything. Simply listen to your friend. Let them know you care for them, and that you will support them in their journey towards being emotionally healthy.
Remember your boundaries with other people. In your day to day life, you have developed coping skills to help you deal with other people and stressors. These don’t have to fall away simply because you are at con. Remember what your triggers and warning signs look like. Avoid the drama llamas who you know might be triggering. Don’t be afraid to share your boundaries with your con buddies, so they can help you enforce them as well.
Know your healthy patterns, keep to them as much as you can at con. How much sleep do you usually need to keep your mental health on track? How much daily caffeine do you normally take? When and how much do you eat on a daily basis to keep healthy? When you’re at con, it’s too easy to deviate from “normal,” and you will crash, which brings an end to your fun. Stick to your routine as much as you are able.
If you can’t stick to your regular routine, please Eat Healthy and Take Rest. Give your body the resources it needs to be healthy. If you eat poorly, don’t get enough water, and run yourself into the ground, your body will find ways to make you stop and rest even if you don’t want to. Or worse, you might become a grumpy bastard if you don’t get enough sleep and try to compensate with too much caffeine. (Trust us, nothing good comes of this.) So plan accordingly, employ the 5-2-1 rule, and treat yourself right.
TAKE YOUR MEDS! Do we really need to tell you this? You know what happens when you don’t take your meds? Bad things. Bad things happen. Take your freakin’ meds, already. Sheesh.