The holidays are usually a time filled with large celebrations, being near loved ones and focusing on what there is to be thankful for. This year, mental health experts are urging the community to be …
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The holidays are usually a time filled with large celebrations, being near loved ones and focusing on what there is to be thankful for.
This year, mental health experts are urging the community to be extra vigilant in keeping up their mental health as the holiday season collides with the COVID-19 pandemic and creates a “stressor on top of a stressor.”
Di Thompson, the medical director for physician wellness at Centura Health, said 2020 holidays will be difficult for some community members as they steer far from tradition.
“Perhaps one of the ways that we can better cope with that is to acknowledge that,” she said. “This is not going to be the Hallmark Christmas that we plan for.”
Altering expectations can help, she said. Most important is finding connection “while we can't physically always be with people.” Zoom, call, text and stay in touch with loved ones however possible.
She also suggests people stick to healthy coping strategies — exercise, listening to music — and check in with themselves each day to gauge how they are doing. Never be afraid to seek additional support like counseling or therapy, she said.
Glenn Most is executive director of West Pines Behavioral Health and spokesman for the Let's Talk Colorado campaign, which encourages people to start conversations about mental health.
A year fraught with a public health crisis, a tense political environment, and locally a devastating wildfire season is testing the community's ability to adapt, Most said.
“In my memory, I've never experienced a year like the year we've been having,” he said. “It's something that none of us, most of us, have never experienced.”
Those working in the field are seeing increased rates of depression and anxiety, Thompson and Most said. Most attributed much of that to the “deep, deep isolation” created by the pandemic.
“I think people saw the holiday season as a relief, as a break from what they were seeing as really marking the end of 2020,” Most said. “And what it has turned into is not necessarily the relief that people were expecting.”
During the holidays, Most suggested strategies like planning early and clearly communicating holiday plans to family. He also stressed avoiding blaming holiday plans or their disruption on family.
Making choices about how to spend the holidays can be difficult, and there has been “increased judgment” toward one another during the pandemic, Most said.
“This isn't the time to try to convince people about certain practices that they might be doing, that are right or wrong,” he said. “This is not the time to argue about COVID.”
He and his family chose not to gather with relatives outside their immediate family for Thanksgiving. Instead they opted for Zoom calls, and will likely do the same for Christmas, when they typically travel to California.
Just like he's advised others to do, Most said, his family made a plan for Christmas early and communicated that to their loved ones.
Amber Berenz is program manager for Colorado Spirit Program — AllHealth Network's initiative to provide free psychological support to people of all ages during the pandemic.
The program is grant funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's oversight. The grant is often used following natural disasters and has been deployed in Colorado after wildfires, Berenz said.
This time it's in use to address a public health disaster, which calls for many of the same response strategies, she said. Usually the grant would enable crisis response teams to go door-to-door to connect people with resources.
During the pandemic, the program is doing that virtually, Berenz said.
The holidays are typically a happy time for many, Berenz said, but they can also inflame trauma from loss or feelings of grief. For some community members, “the holidays are a difficult time any time of year.”
“For a lot of us, helping other people, supporting other people is a way we can manager our own stress,” she said.
In addition to strategies to help yourself cope — meditation, exercise, eating well, getting sleep — people can also care for the ones around them by checking in on them and asking how they are doing.
Thompson said starting those conversations can be uncomfortable but it's one of the simplest and most effective ways to let someone know they are supported.
Most urged people to keep their guard up as they weather COVID fatigue amid promising news of vaccines becoming available. The community must continue working together “to get through this.”
“I'm very optimistic that this time next year,” he said, “we will be celebrating the holidays together.”
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