Heather Toum, M.Ed, LMHC
Coping with COVID Going into the New Year
The winter and holiday months have always been especially difficult to cope with, between managing stress and seasonal affective disorder (SAD), clients typically report an increase in depression and anxiety this time of year. During this time, people are more likely to stay indoors, which means less sun exposure and less exercise. Clients often report an increase in stress during the holidays, in general, due to finances, family conflict, and worrying about health (example- overindulging in food and drink and limiting exercise). This year, COVID is now included to the mix.
Humans are social creatures in need of interactions with others, even the most introverted. Research has shown that social isolation has a negative impact on the mental, physical, and cognitive health of individuals. According to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the basic physiological needs of humans (food, water, shelter) must be met to progress and achieve self-growth. In other words, for example-if a person is homeless, they will not be focusing on improving confidence or self-esteem. By the way, reproduction is also considered a basic physiological need. This makes sense why those suffering with infertility find it extremely challenging to focus on other aspects of their lives. You can read more about this here: http://cpw.care/stress-anxiety-depression-and-trying-to-conceive/. After physiological needs are met, humans focus on fulfilling safety needs. These include feeling safe in your community and home, job security, and having access to medical care. Unfortunately, these needs are not being met for many people right now. Even if these needs are being met, the next step is love and belonging, which includes the need for human and social interaction. No wonder people are struggling.
Mental Health Strategies:
Practicing Radical Acceptance: In this case, radical acceptance means: Accepting that there is nothing we can do about the existence of COVID. This does not mean we like it; it just means this is something out of our control.
Practicing Mindfulness Strategies: Mindfulness strategies are those that refocus your attention on the present moment, without judgment. Studies have demonstrated these strategies are helpful in reducing stress and rumination, and improving focus, working memory, and emotional regulation. Strategies include meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, body scans (a guided meditation with special attention to the physical body), and grounding techniques (using the 5 senses to center your awareness on the present moment: example, smelling an appealing fragrance or putting your hands in water).
Reducing News and Social Media Usage: This is tough for a lot of people and it has been coming up a lot lately in my sessions. Researchers have identified an association between social media usage and depression. Many of my clients over the years have noticed a correlation in their social media/internet usage and anxiety/depression symptoms. For some, it’s easy to set limits with themselves. However, most people find this challenging. I adopted the strategy “worry time” and call it “google time”. The original strategy of “worry time” is setting a time either one or twice a day to allow yourself to worry as much as you want about any topic. Then during the rest of the day, if you notice yourself worrying, remind yourself that you are free to worry during “worry time” but right now you are doing _____. This is the time to utilize coping or possibly distraction strategies to manage the distress. The purpose of this technique is to learn to compartmentalize and control the worry, with the future goal of also limiting the frequency and intensity. “Google time” has the same concept of setting aside one or two brief times a day (I recommend either 15 or 30 minute time frames, once in the morning and/or once at night) and allowing yourself to use the internet during those times, but limit usage outside of those times.
Practicing Gratitude: Our brain is always looking to answer a question. If we ask ourselves why so much is going wrong in our lives, our brain will search for an answer. This will more than likely result in a negative emotion. However, if we ask ourselves what is going well in our lives, our brain will look for that answer, resulting in a positive emotion. This is why gratitude is so powerful. Exercises to try include naming 3 things your grateful for before bed (can share with your partner), journaling, or setting an intention for the day.
With so many contributing factors, it can be difficult to determine why you're having changes in mood, and even more importantly, what you can do about it. Although many of these factors are out of your control, what you do have control over is how you choose to cope. Here at the Center for Perinatal Wellness, we hold a strength-based approach to working with our clients and we are here to support you in your journey to becoming well.
Please contact us for more information or if you would like to make an appointment.
413-203-1300 or visit our contact page http://cpw.care/contact/