Uninviting COVID Related Stress This Holiday Season

COVID and Mental Health Issues
Overview
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    With the holidays quickly approaching and no clear end to the modern day crisis that is COVID, have you considered the state of our mental health?  Studies done prior to COVID have shown that about 1 out of every 4 people suffer from mental health issues both clinically diagnosed as well as undiagnosed anxieties and depressions that are evolving in individuals everyday. While some of us may appear to handle these stresses better than others, you can never know for certain what is going on in someone else’s head. As described by Hope For the Day (hftd.org), our minds are like a bottle of soda, and the stresses we experience in our lives are like shaking that bottle.

    The COVID crisis shook us like it was making a Gin Fizz. Businesses have had to close their doors, jobs have been lost, people have been confined into their homes, students have gone virtual, normality is hanging on by a thread. With the holidays right around the corner, let’s not forget about the unwanted guest that comes with it; demands. Hosting family and friends, expectations of shopping,  cooking, traveling, entertaining, decorating. If our minds are the soda, COVID and the holidays combined may just be the mentos that blow off our lids. 

    As COVID cases continue to spike around the globe, people are losing interest in their hobbies, and spending less time doing things they love. On a daily basis we are faced with the inability to go to our favorite places and see our favorite people. In general, we are spending more time inside and less outside. Life is shaking us up, building that pressure in our head. For some, this holiday season may be a breath of fresh air.  Many people have started decorating early this year to simply  ‘feel better’. If something this simple can help us cope with today, perhaps there are other tactics we could utilize to minimize just how shaken our minds get? After consulting with Hope for the Day, we discussed 3 simple ways to help you take care of your mental health on a day to day basis and with COVID and the holidays thrown in the mix.   

    Eating

    We are eating more, doing less. It is said ‘we are what we eat’, this is because the nutrients we receive from the food we eat fuels our body. Comfort eating things like ice cream, pizza, chips, or pasta can be a useful way to relieve the pressures of the day. However, when indulgences become more of a necessity or a habit, it’s time to check in with ourselves and re-evaluate those “treats” to get to the root of the issue. Ask yourself, what is causing the compulsion? These foods are not only lacking nutrition, but they are also filled with many artificial additives and unhealthy ingredients. For example, making a burger from scratch is significantly better for you then one from McDonalds. Considering that we are spending more time at home in the face of COVID, perhaps it is time to delete uber eats and make a trip to the grocery store. Use this holiday season as an opportunity to spend time cooking healthier and better food, focusing on quality not quantity. 

    Sleeping

    How has your sleeping schedule been affected by the changes we have been faced with over the past several months? When you consider the pressures of the holidays plus the restrictions we are left with from the pandemic, it’s hard to stop worrying. I’m sure many of us have experienced a night where they just can’t seem to turn their brain off. Similar to eating healthy, to take care of our mind we need to take care of our bodies first.  According to the Harvard Medical School, sleep problems are commonly found in individuals with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A lack of sleep can impede the ability of the body and mind to heal itself, and can manifest during the day as challenges with concentration, anxiety, fatigue, and generally bad feelings. So it’s important to prioritize good sleep to ensure a healthy mind and body. It has been discovered that people who get 7 hours of sleep or less, have a higher risk of developing psychosis.

    Exercise

    We all know the importance of exercising, whether or not we do it is another matter entirely. According to the CDC, regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Not only does working out help prevent gaining weight, it also diminishes your chances of disease, promotes a healthy heart, healthy blood flow, and most importantly, promotes a healthy brain. Some of these benefits come immediately following a workout from the dopamine and endorphins being produced by your brain. These chemicals being released literally make you feel happy and help reduce the feelings of short term anxieties.  In the long run, exercise can also reduce sleep problems, and your overall risk of depression and anxiety. With all this considered, this holiday season take a walk with the family, spend more time on your feet, go on a run or take a hike. I know we are being pushed to spend most of our days indoors due to COVID, but our mental health should be just as important. Grab your mask and a pair of sneakers and just run it off. 

    Think of your mind like a bottle of soda.  Life is shaking us up, and pressure is building.  What would happen if I popped the top off right now?  There would be a big explosion, and that explosion represents a crisis point in our mental health.   Is there a way to open your bottle without reaching the point of explosion?  You can open it slowly, little by little.  .  Those little “tssss” sounds represent valving.  It’s the way we take care of ourselves to release some of the pressure to keep us from escalating into a crisis stage.

    Aside from some of the buckets we’ve already discussed,  there are plenty of other ways to try to help aid this depressurization to avoid the explosion. Learn to appreciate the little things. Everyday when you wake up think about specific things that make you happy, or remember the good that you have seen people do.  Do your best to avoid becoming fixated on negative things that have happened or things that we cannot change. Allow yourself some grace and forgiveness.

    If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health issues, use the holidays as an opportunity to get something off yours or another’s chest and lighten that emotional load. In addition, please take a moment to reflect and think about all the things that people around you are going through that you may not know about. Check in with each other, and remind each other that it’s ok not to be ok. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges, please visit Hope for the Day’s resource compass to find help in your immediate area.

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