For months, health experts have been warning us that the winter surge of COVID-19 was coming and that unless we were vigilant, it could be deadly. Yet, despite the warnings and the growing number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in past weeks, many of us were unprepared for what is happening today in LA County and in other places around the country and the world.
Here at home, we have reached unprecedented levels of positive cases and deaths. ICU capacity at local hospitals is down to zero. Non-COVID Medical care may be delayed due to lack of medical staff. Cases are higher than ever before. Places we thought were safe, aren’t. And it’s coming at a time when most of us just want to be together, celebrate, see our loved ones in person, and create a sense of normalcy for the holidays.
So what do we do?
Many medical and mental health experts are asking us to think less about ourselves this holiday season - what we want, what would make us happy - and think more about others. Be Extra Vigilant This means focusing on how to keep others safe and healthy during the winter season. That means limiting gatherings with people outside your own home. Always wearing a mask when in public. Staying at least six feet apart. Washing our hands. Limiting exposure to places where people gather. Be careful. Be vigilant. Be mindful of where we go, who we interact with, and how safe we are being for ourselves and others. It is the gift we can give today and everyday.
Sadly, it simply means that the holidays are not going to look like they were in past years. It might mean people will be spending more time alone or apart from the people they are closest too. And it means there may be an increase in the stress and depression and loneliness that is already a big part of some people’s experience of the holidays.
As you prepare to find safer ways to celebrate the holidays, keep these tips in mind:
It’s Okay to be Sad this Year
This year it will be harder than ever to be with loved ones. You may even spend some or all of the holiday season away from family. That’s okay, and it’s okay to feel sad about it. Experts believe stress caused by the holiday season comes from people’s expectation to feel happy. This is a difficult time for many of us; so it is okay to feel sad. Understand those feelings are normal, along with grief, if someone close to you has recently died or is currently ill. Whether you have lost a loved one or not, we are all grieving what our holidays looked like in the past. No matter what you are grieving, grief is a process that comes with many different feelings.
Reach Out if YOU Need Help
If you feel alone, look for things that can provide companionship. Virtual religious and social events can help. Calling friends or family members can lift your spirits. Doing these things even when we don’t feel like it can make you feel better during this time. Reach Out to Others Volunteering can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It can also help give our holidays more purpose. The Los Angeles Public Library has a project to write postcards and letters to seniors who can’t leave their homes right now. Suicide hotlines need people to answer the phones. The Red Cross has virtual volunteering opportunities as well. Just because we’re home, doesn’t mean we can’t help others.
If people can’t be together, share photos and videos or get on a video call. If you can’t gather to exchange gifts, consider skipping gift-giving this year and just share stories or memories. Maybe consider creating new traditions, such as donating items to those in need. Be creative! Stay Healthy Get lots of sleep, get regular exercise, and eat fresh foods. When possible, engage in physical activity outside, where it is safe to do so. Avoid excessive alcohol or drug use. Healthy habits make us feel better, especially during times of stress. Take a Break Taking a walk, listening to music or just sitting quietly for 15 minutes, can really lower your stress level. It even helps to just make sure we are taking deep breaths throughout the day. Once we take care of ourselves, it means we can then care for others around us.
Ensure Children Cope
The Child Mind Institute encourages parents to include youth in holiday planning. This way, children won’t have time to grapple with confusion or disappointment alone. Along with detailing how holiday celebrations will take place, safety measures for any kind of gathering should be discussed clearly and decided in advance to increase confidence and comfort levels. In the midst of structuring a safe holiday season, making children a part of the decision-making process helps offset negative feelings and doubt that this year’s festivities won’t be as enjoyable as years prior. Make this year feel special by asking your children what they would like to cook, games they would like to play, special music they would like to hear, etc. Finally, validate their feelings. Hearing children out by granting them space to express disappointment creates a dialogue where reasoning and personal experiences can be discussed openly. Keeping your kids in the conversation and letting them know that you hear them can help them feel respected even in situations that don’t go the way they want.
Seek Professional Help if You Need It
There is no shame in asking for help. If you notice you are starting to feel unable to do things you normally do or are experiencing lasting periods of anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, irritability, problems sleeping or impulsivity, reach out to your doctor or a mental health processional and share your concerns. If you continue to feel sad, anxious, unable to sleep, feel hopeless, or unable to do the things you normally do, reach out to a mental health professional or your doctor and share your concerns. There are free resources available to help you during this time.
The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) supports the wellbeing of our County residents and communities. LACDMH’s Help Line is available 24/7 to provide mental health support, resources and referrals at (800) 854-7771.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline Database or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (operated 24/7), for information and referrals if you or a loved one are facing mental health and/or substance use issues.
Remember: We are in this together and we will get through this together.