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Here’s how to find joy this holiday season and what to do if you’re struggling – Pressconnects

Posted: November 23, 2020 at 6:54 am

Across New York, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a devastating toll on mental health. Families havegrappledwith fear and worry about contracting the illness, anxiety over financial woes and, in some cases, grief from the loss of a loved one.

And the stresses of thisholiday season may only increase the associated anxiety and create new hurdles for those already struggling.

That's why experts say it's important to find small, creative ways to feel joy and comfort this year and when you need it, don't be afraid to ask for help.

"Theres no doubt," said Ronald Regge, associate professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, "that this is a tough time of year for everybody."

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With each passing month, pandemic-related fatigue and anxiety have jeopardized daily life.

"The impact has been, I think, unparalleled," said Dr. Peter Faustino, president of the Westchester County Psychological Association & NY Delegate to the National Association of School Psychologists. "Were all experiencing this huge trauma and that its lasting as long as it has ... As weeks turned into months, people are struggling to manage and to deal with it."

The CDC has reported that symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States from April to June this year, compared to the same period in 2019.

New York State Office of Mental Health: The COVID-19 pandemic has left many New Yorkers feeling anxious and stressed. To find a mental health program in your area, as well as tips for mental wellness, visit omh.ny.gov.

Project Hope: Project Hope is New Yorks COVID-19 Emotional Support Helpline. It's free, confidential and anonymous. For more information, visit nyprojecthope.org or call 1-844-863-9314.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

New York State Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-942-6906

Crisis Text Line: Text "Got5" to 741-741. Frontline worker? Text FRONTLINENY to 741-741 for specialized support

Overall, 40.9% of study respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, trauma- and stressor-related disorder related to the pandemic and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.

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Pressures surrounding the holiday season can augment feelings of anxiety or stress.In a 2014 study, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition a lot worse and 40% somewhat worse.

This year, the potential risk of exposure to COVID-19, travel restrictions and safety concerns present extracomplications.

"Families are going to be dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety, and theyre only going to get worse," said Harry Reis, professor of psychology at University of Rochester. "This is a time of the year where people traditionally take a break from work and connect with people they care about, break their routine, travel, do those things. Alarge number of Americans wont be able to do that this year."

On the edge of a difficult year, these New Yorkers have found their happiness, from walks, to food, and to family, no matter the distance. Rockland/Westchester Journal News

To help brighten an otherwise dark year, Reis says connection is key, even if you're growing tired of video chats.

"Family and friends and people who care about us are the centerpiece of human life," he said."Were evolved to be social creatures and connection is incredibly important and when you take connection away from people, people suffer. We have to take advantage of it."

For the holidays, that might mean having a video chat with a loved one in a nursing home, committing to calling someone you love every day, or setting up a computer in the dining room so family and friends from afar can virtually join in the holiday meal.

More: Little Lights: In a difficult year, here's how some New Yorkers found moments of joy

Faustino also suggests reimagining treasured traditions to hold onto their meaning, even if they won't be the same this year. Families who treasure the opportunity to cook and share food but are unable to do so together this yearcould donate meals instead. Those who cherish shared storytelling with loved ones could make a point to get everyone on a Zoom callor write letters sharing things they're grateful for.

This season can be an opportunity to build relationships in your family, says Qi Wang, professor and department chair of human development at Cornell University. Flipping through photo albums of past vacations together or special times can help create a positive atmosphere, as can decorating a home together or playing games.

"In this situation, the point of view is very important, how we view the situation," she said. "Can we turn this into an opportunity, can we develop it into something good for personal growth and for our family relations and our children?"

Dont make it complicated. Set a very small goal and then as you achieve that, amp the goal up. Once youre on that healthy path, then it gets a lot easier.

It's also important to take care of yourself. If finding time to do that has been difficult, you're not alone. Experts say the first step is the hardest, especially if you're already feeling stressed or burned out.To avoid pitfalls, they suggest starting small. If you've set a goal to exercise more,committo taking a five-minute walk every day rather than five miles.

"Dont make it complicated, Regge says. "Set a very small goal and then as you achieve that, amp the goal up. Once youre on that healthy path, then it gets a lot easier."

Self care means something different for everyone. As well as exercise, some people might find comfort in creating a routine, practicing yoga, putting on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, picking up a new hobby or writing in a journal. Myra Sabir, an associate professor of human development at Binghamton University, has found relief and resilience through a form of narrative intervention she teaches in local workshops called Life Writing.

"Whatever brings you that tranquility and peace and helps calm you down and helps you find your center, scheduling that time into your day makes a huge difference," Regge said.

No matter what burdens this holiday season brings with it, Wang emphasizes the importance of seeking professional help when it's needed.

"I think Americans tend to assume happiness is the norm, and unhappy means something is wrong," she said. "Obviously keeping that mentality during the pandemic isnt realistic. Its not about us, its just the situation. We dont have control of the situation."

Especially now, experiencing periods of sadness or anxietyis normal. Events of stress and trauma affect every person differently,there is no hardship too small to be valid. Many organizations have extended telehealth therapy services in light of the coronavirus and several others have created support groups on social media for those struggling to cope.

"Every community has resources available. Dont be embarrassed to make that connection," Reis said. "Youre not alone, many people are having these difficulties and many professionals are standing ready to help."

Follow Katie Sullivan Borrelli on Twitter @ByKatieBorrelli.To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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Here's how to find joy this holiday season and what to do if you're struggling - Pressconnects

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