Many think of the holiday season as “the most wonderful time of the year.” It’s the time of year when family, friends, and strangers come together to celebrate and support each other. But for some, it’s a very lonely time. And this year, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures required to help slow the spread of the virus, many are coping with feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sadness, which can exacerbate underlying mental health conditions. In addition, pressure to buy gifts can also be stressful for those experiencing financial challenges. S
This holiday season is putting health care workers to the test. It will undoubtedly be different than any other we have gone through before. Across the country and in New Hampshire, cases of COVID-19 are surging. Ongoing research suggests that health care workers treating patients with COVID-19 are experiencing significantly higher levels of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress.
In addition to the stressors related to working in health care right now, there are many additional COVID-19 related factors that are also contributing to increases in depression and anxiety, including (but not limited to):
- Decreased social interactions due to need for social distancing
- Financial hardships related to lack of job security
- Loss of control/uncertainty about the future
- Decreased access to some health care services
- Decreased access to leisure outlets – movies, going out to eat
- Health issues – self and family
- Decreased supportive resources
- Child care concerns
- Fear of bringing COVID-19 home to a loved one
Although this holiday season may be different than years past, it does not mean that people should not celebrate and take care of themselves. So how do we take care of ourselves during this holiday season with COVID-19 always on our minds? By remembering what truly matters to you. Andria Dobberstein, MSN, RN, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Elliot Health System, and Michelle Gardner, RN, NSN, RN-BC, NE-BC, Director of Behavioral Health Services and Inpatient Behavioral Health at Southern New Hampshire Health, have some tips.
- Think outside the box to find ways to celebrate the holidays with your family, whether that’s using social media or a phone.
- Appreciate the little moments.
- Practice gratitude. You made it through 2020!
- Learn to let go. We must recognize what we can and cannot change. It is ok to change from your “normal” holiday routine and start new traditions – be inspired.
- To contribute to the overall provision of care in our health care environment we must first be healthy ourselves.
Self-Care Is One of the Best Ways to Counteract the Impact of Negative Stressors
Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our health (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual). Engaging in self-care improves one’s overall well-being, resiliency, quality of life, quality of relationships, job performance, and ability to care for others.
Because we are all different, self-care must be individualized to meet our own unique needs. However, there are some self-care fundamentals that are commonly cited:
- Healthy diet
- Getting enough rest and sleep
- Spending time with family and friends
- Implementing gratitude and relaxation practices (mindfulness, meditation, breathing)
- Accessing professional support through private means or through your company’s employee assistance program
It’s Not Enough to Know About Self-Care… You Need To Do It!
Knowing what self-care is and why it is important is a good first step. It is important to then determine how to actually incorporate self-care into your life. Some people have a really hard time figuring this part out and engaging in self-care activities. For many, certain thoughts/beliefs about self-care, about themselves, and their self-worth may prevent them from engaging in self-care activities. Here are some common beliefs that can prevent engagement in self-care, as well as some ways to challenge to those beliefs:
“I don’t have time.”
False. It is true that we are all being pulled in a million directions and probably struggling to get through what is on our plate each day without adding any additional tasks to complete. But consider this, maybe it’s not that you don’t have enough time, but rather that you put other responsibilities ahead of your responsibility to take care of yourself!
“It’s more important to meet the needs of my family, my boss, my employees, etc. than it is to meet my self-care needs.”
False. Your needs are just as important as anyone else’s.
“I don’t deserve to set time aside just for myself.”
False. As the saying goes, you, just as much as anyone else, deserve compassion and kindness from yourself. What if you thought more about treating yourself the way you would treat a friend?
“I’m fine I don’t need to do self-care.”
False. Everyone needs self-care. If you don’t set aside time for constructive self-care, you are likely to engage in other not-so-healthy ways of coping with stress.
“I have more important things to do than self-care.”
This might be true sometimes, but not all the time. Do you really have more important things to do all day, every day, seven days a week? Remember, without self-care you are putting yourself at risk for all sorts of potential issues that you want to avoid, like anxiety, depression, fatigue, relationship strain, etc.
“I should be able to just handle things as they come up without setting aside time for self-care.”
False. This is called “shoulding” yourself. It is not helpful and it is not fair for you to do this to yourself. You are a human being, and quite frankly no matter how others may appear to you on the outside, everyone needs to engage in self-care to stay healthy. Recognizing and respecting this is a sign of strength.
Start with Self-Compassion.
Self-compassion means treating yourself the same way you would treat and care for someone else experiencing suffering. Compassion involves feeling affected by that suffering in a way that your heart responds to their experience. When this happens, it results in feelings of warmth, caring, and a desire to help. It also means offering kindness and understanding. Self-compassion means treating yourself with that same type of a response. All too often we are our own harshest critics. We say negative things about ourselves to ourselves, and when we are going through difficult circumstances, we tend to not treat ourselves very well. We treat ourselves much more poorly than we would treat a friend, family member, or even a stranger in the same circumstances.
Practicing self-compassion is a foundational step towards starting to take better care of ourselves and can open up new ways of thinking that makes it easier to incorporate self-care practices into our lives. Practicing self-compassion can also reduce anxiety, depression, stress, perfectionism, and self-shaming. It improves life satisfaction and happiness.
Here are some ways to practice self-compassion:
- Treat yourself the way you would treat a friend. Use forgiving and supportive language towards yourself the way you would talk to a friend.
- Try not to beat yourself up for your mistakes. Recognize that we all make mistakes, it is human to do so, and we are all human.
- Try to practice self-acceptance. This means accepting your shortcomings as well as your strengths. You aren’t perfect and that is ok because no one is.
- Try not to compare yourself to others or place value on yourself based on outside influences. Cultivating true self-worth comes from within.
- When you are having a reaction or emotion that results in you judging yourself (“Why am I crying? I should be stronger”), try to remember that you are human and if you think about it, probably many people would feel the same way you are feeling in the situation.
- During times of distress, you can physically comfort yourself by placing a hand over your heart and a hand on your stomach. Feel your own gentle touch and let is provide comfort and reassurance. Slow down your breathing and feel the rise and fall of your belly and chest.
- Try to be aware of your thoughts about yourself, and when you recognize you are having a negative thought about yourself, try to re-frame that thought by using forgiving language towards yourself.
We are facing unprecedented challenges and stressful circumstances right now. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury, especially in times like this. You are important enough to prioritize your own mental, emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual well-being.
And please know that sometimes self-care means reaching out for professional help. If you are struggling with your thoughts and feelings, there are resources available to help.
SolutionHealth employees in both Nashua and Manchester have access to Employee Assistance Programs to help you cope with stressful times. Call today for a confidential session.