By Michael Yates
As if the year hasn’t been stressful enough with living in the midst of a pandemic health disaster, we’re now faced with the holidays, which may be harder than ever for us to “be of good cheer.” Regardless of the growing COVID-fatigue felt by all, radio airplay, television commercials, and social media outlets will ring in familiar seasonal chorus. Andy Williams’ well-known holiday refrain will still be heard wherever you are – “And everyone telling you ‘be of good cheer,’ It’s the most wonderful time of the year, It’s the hap-happiest season of all.”
Most every year, we are reminded this is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” While for many that may be true, for most of us this holiday season is a triggering landscape of isolation, lost rituals and routines of the season, complex grief, and lofty expectations unrealized. No doubt, the usual season of good cheer, fond memories, and new beginnings is different this year with the uninvited guests of fatigue, stress, loneliness, and lament caused by the coronavirus!
The truth is that this holiday season can worsen our ability to successfully manage our mental health due to amplified stress, anxiety, and depression related to COVID-19. Dr. Traci Golbach Ph.D., director of Ridgeview’s outpatient services, cautions that a mental health emergency can manifest in a variety of ways, which may include: inability to complete daily tasks; withdrawing from friends and family; showing impulsive or reckless behavior; having dramatic shifts in mood, sleeping or eating patterns; or verbally saying, writing or insinuating that they’d no longer wish to live.
Looking for a change in your holiday guests? This season let us choose to invite resilience to the party. It is well documented how the stress and pressure of the season’s many demands, coupled by COVID-19, can lead to a strong bout of the blues, in the very least, and at worst, to a darkness so deep you don’t see a way out. And for others, this holiday season is one of painful memories of a love departed and where, even in the company of others, you still feel utterly alone.
The Mayo Clinic recognizes that when stress is at its peak, it is hard to stop and regroup. Taking steps to mitigate further escalation of stress, especially during these holidays, can be time well spent.
How, you wonder?
“Resiliency” is a word that has caught on these days. You hear it in social services, in geo-political debates, why you even hear it used in how we mitigate the impact of COVID, as in, “Teachers, parents, and students showed great resilience in overcoming the adversity of an erratic school schedule.” A recent blog by the New Economics Foundation introduced five key factors to bolster resilience and strengthen protective factors, especially during seasonal spikes of fatigue, stress, and lament.
The ingredients to help stave off the seasonal blues are simple and familiar: connect, be active, take notice, keep learning, and give.
This holiday season consider inviting resilience into your life by surrounding yourself with positive, meaningful connections and invest time in developing them. Be active in motion, in voice, and in choice – go for walks, share a story, and feed the positive influences in your life. Take notice of people and things around you; observe the beauty of this season; and reflect on your experiences to better recognize what’s most important to you. Keep learning new things. Reach for that book you’ve been putting off or pick up that instrument. Go explore. And finally, give to someone your smile, your time, your gratitude. Give the gift of being good to yourself, too. You deserve it.
To be sure, these ingredients will not work for everyone all the time, but by inviting resilience into your holiday season, you just might keep the uninvited guests of fatigue, stress, loneliness, and lament caused by the coronavirus out.
Locally, Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services has trained counselors available through their COVID-19 Helpline, which is a free service available 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. every day of the week. Please call the toll-free number, 1-833-503-0348. The professional, caring counselors will listen to what you’re experiencing, help review coping strategies, review options, and connect you with other programs and agencies that may assist you. So be of good cheer and celebrate the most wonderful time of the year, but if this season is especially hard for you or someone you love, know that Ridgeview is here to provide help in coping with COVID-19.
Michael Yates is the Director of Development at Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services. Ridgeview is a private, not for profit community mental health center with locations in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan, Roane, and Scott counties.