Connections with family and friends are important to all of us. And they mean even more to those suffering from anxiety and/or depression. But for months, COVID-19 restrictions have limited our ability to gather – in pairs or in groups – which can make holiday traditions challenging.
The key is to maintain those connections and traditions safely, or even start new ones, said April Balzhiser, MA, LCPC, ICDVP, Program Director at Silver Oaks Behavioral Hospital in New Lenox.
“We have actually seen our number of cases drop during holidays in past years, because those who suffer from depression or anxiety look forward to those gatherings, those traditions with family and friends,” Balzhiser said.
“But this year over Thanksgiving, we did not see that drop. The number of cases was pretty consistent. And all year, we have been seeing more and more people who never displayed emotional issues before. We’ll have to see what Christmas and New Year’s bring.”
Balzhiser said it is crucial for emotional health to keep up those connections, especially during the holidays. People already have shared Easter and Thanksgiving prayers and meals over Zoom or other similar platforms. They do regular “get-togethers” that way also.
Sometimes, if close enough, they’ve been able to swap favorite foods with socially distanced drops, and share them over Zoom dinners. Maybe there’s even a way to share how to make favorite recipes over Zoom.
“We need to look at the glass half full,” she said. “Instead of thinking, ‘We can’t do this; we can’t do that.’ We should say, ‘How can we still do this? How can we make this work?’”
Speaking of glasses, Balzhiser reminds those with emotional issues that alcohol can exacerbate their distress, or even worse if taken with medications.
Many during the pandemic quarantines have found other ways to cope, like looking around the house to see what needs to be done.
“All of a sudden, you may have a lot on your hands,” she said. “Home improvement sales are going through the roof, no pun intended.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness NAMI suggests keeping to a regular routine as much as possible.
Make your bed. Get dressed. Connect with loved ones. Move your body. Make time for breaks. If possible, take regular short breaks during work or between shifts. During these breaks, go outside and engage in physical activity if you can.
Practice good hygiene, especially by cleaning your hands. Prioritize sleep. Getting enough regular sleep is critical for your immune system. Eat nutritious food as much as possible, especially fruits and vegetables
Watch out for negative posts on social media. Instead, search for free exercise videos on the web (yoga, dance exercises, Pilates, cardio, HIIT, etc.)
There are many ways you can build a feeling of connection, even if you can’t see people in person or go places you usually would:
- Make sure you have the phone numbers and emails of close friends and family.
- Stay connected via phone, email, social media and video calls.
- Offer to help others if you can.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Share how you’re feeling with people you trust.
- Regularly call, text or email with family and friends who may have more limited social contact — older Americans, those with disabilities, those who live alone, those who are quarantined or at high risk because of chronic health conditions.
- If talking about COVID-19 is affecting your mental health, set boundaries with people about how much and when talk you about COVID-19. Balance this with other topics you’d usually discuss.
Balzhiser said much of this can be challenging if you’re home with others, especially if you’re working with children who are being taught remotely.
“Children will pick up on even non-verbal cues from their parents,” she said. “So, it’s good to try to stay positive. You can do crafts together, visit with grandma and grandpa, cousins and friends over Zoom.”
Silver Oaks offers treatment for those ages 13 and up, and Balzhiser said they have seen a rise in teen cases.
“And that makes sense,” she said. “Teens need that peer interaction. Yet, they’re stuck at home with their parents.”
Silver Oaks welcomes walk-ins and calls (844-880-5000) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Balzhiser said.
They have clinicians available to help at all times who will help determine if a person needs regular visits and/or medication with a provider in the community, full or partial hospitalization, or someone just seeking a non-judgmental ear.
“Remember, we are all in this together,” Balzhiser said. “But one thing is crucial: You have to take care of yourself. We can’t control the news or the pandemic. But we can control how we react to them.”
“And we have a vaccine now. There is hope.”