Set a realistic expectation for this holiday
The reality is that this year will be different than previous years no matter what you do to try and return to normalcy. Holiday traditions that have gone on for decades might suddenly feel unsafe- like that yearly family dinner with all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. Maybe your family is even missing a member or two as a result of the virus. Whatever the change is to your normal plan, it’s important to take some time to figure out what a realistic experience will be. Maybe this holiday you’re still planning for the big visit, but you’ll need to brace yourself for the grief process you’ll face when grandpa isn’t sitting in his chair this year. Or maybe you’ll have to anticipate what it might be like to make thanksgiving dinner alone in preparation for a scheduled all-family zoom call. No matter what your holiday looks like, giving yourself time to anticipate the changes and adjust accordingly will help you stay collected.
If you are, what’s the limit of people in one space? Does everyone have to be wearing a mask and distancing? These are all important questions to ask yourself- and once you know for certain, it’ll be easier to say no to things you don’t feel safe doing. The no changes from “I’m sorry grandpa, I can’t visit this Thanksgiving” to “I can’t visit this Thanksgiving, because I don’t feel safe about 30 unmasked people in the same small place, especially when I know a few of them had to fly in from other cities.” And when grandpa wants you to come anyway, stand your ground.
Celebrate in the way you want to
Just because this holiday will be different, doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. How do you most enjoy spending normal days, and how can you make it special for a holiday? Maybe you can sit and watch tv with your pet like you normally would on a free day, but to make it special, you can dress up, decorate your living room, and watch something with a holiday theme. Maybe you can make yourself a big fancy dinner and just pack the leftovers up for future lunches. If you’d like to see friends and family, maybe it’s worth it to request a few friends all agree to self-isolate for several days and get tested for a small gathering, or maybe a zoom call is more up your alley. No matter how you choose to celebrate, or if you celebrate at all, you deserve a calm day where you get to have fun however you see fit.
It’s been months since we’ve been living the lives we are used to, hustling and bustling all about, living our best lives. Lately though it seems that most of us have been spending a little more time than usual with our heads buried in our phones. What was perhaps meant initially to be a leisurely activity used for the purpose of entertainment has grown into an addiction of sorts for some.
Originally, social media was meant to bring us together, keep us connected and to be used as a platform to share our art. However, with the creation of the “Like” button the algorithm took over. Social media algorithms are complex computer systems that can not discern between fact and fiction, prioritizing what it deems to be popular. We all know that popularity is a major draw for us starting in our junior high years. It is basic human nature to want to be liked by others, even if we don’t like them. We find ourselves second-guessing our appearance, actions or even our political views based on the approval of those around us. With social media becoming popular in the last decade or so, being liked has literally turned into something quantifiable, causing a massive drop in self-esteem as well as the emergence of cyberbullying.
Social media can be the cause of emotional distress if we let it drag us down that path. It’s unfortunately easy to do! The use of social media such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have taken a toll on the mental health of the average person and a huge increase in FOMO (fear of missing out). Scroll, compare, scroll, is a part of our daily routine these days which ultimately leads to the feeling of unhappiness, discontent, and anxiety about if we are good enough. We ask ourselves questions like:
“What am I doing wrong with my life?”
“Why are all my friends so happy?”
“Am I on the right path?”
“How is everybody affording a vacation?”
At our worst, we can begin to obsess over obscure details until we lose the ability to find joy and beauty in our own lives despite the fact that we all know very well by now that social media is nowhere near real life. It’s simply a snapshot in time of a random moment that most people fake in order to appear on top of the world. Social media is now designed to be addictive, tricking our brains into releasing dopamine when given new information and positive reinforcements. It is made to hold our attention by keeping us online for as long as possible. Social media is filled with influencers whose job is to have an aesthetically pleasing life in order to market products. Their photos are extensively edited and many times their clothes and environments are curated or even rented. In other words, fake (shhh don’t tell them we said that)!
SOME THINGS WE CAN DO TO LIMIT THESE DISCOURAGING FEELINGS:
As if 2020 couldn’t be more anxiety-inducing, election time is just around the corner. Regardless of whether you’re on the left or right, everyone is feeling a bit more on edge this election season and really for most of us, the whole election year. With the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, massive job loss, mental illness on the rise, social unrest, and so many other factors, the future of America is at present, uncertain.
Here are a few ideas to ease the tension
SET UP A THERAPY SESSION
Speaking with a therapist offers us the support and validation we all need. Having a space where you can freely speak your mind without fear of judgement is an amazingly healing experience. It is dedicated time just for you where the person sitting across from you (maybe on screen these days, let’s be real) has been highly trained in human behavior and is likely naturally superb at listening and creating a safe space. Therapy gives us a very insightful look into our own mind, our experience and behaviors with the added benefit of increasing our perspective. A common part of therapy is learning skills, tools and coping mechanisms to better deal with the stressors of life and well, this election is a pretty big stressor for some.
GET OUT AND VOTE
Voting is how we can use our voices and be heard. Voting and encouraging others to do the same can help give a sense of impact. Look up when, how, and where to vote in your state and local area.
With so much uncertainty, having a plan for what we will be doing before, during, and after election day can help to ground us and tame our nerves. In a planner or google calendar write out an election day plan. In addition to voting, this plan can include things like a nice breakfast, self-care activities, avoidance of social media and news, a zoom happy hour and getting to bed early. Planning in advance allows for clarity of direction towards the positive and helpful rather than engaging in misdirected activities that may add to our stress.
CONNECT TO A GROUP
Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people helps with the feelings of isolation and helplessness. Hearing others talk about their lives, struggles and successes can put things into perspective. With quarantine and social distancing still in action, online therapy, support groups and book clubs are the way to go.
INTENTIONAL SELF CARE
Now is the perfect time to start or revamp your self-care routine. Having a good go-to self-care regimen can help lower cortisol(the stress hormone) levels and it’s the perfect break from the concern and stress that is building for so many right now. Self-care activities can range from time alone to going to the doctor, either way, intentionality is key. Eating our favorite foods, watching a funny movie, taking a technology-free walk and journaling are great examples of self-care when stressors are coming from a national and global level. Meditation is also a great way to tame intrusive thoughts, you know, thoughts like, “If _______ is elected, ________”.
Election grief is the post-election experience that results in heavy feelings of sadness and despair. This form of grief is legitimate and occurs following most if not all elections. Therapists saw this in session in droves in the months after the 2016 election. We can expect to go through the same five stages of grief that occur following other loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages can come on at any time and in any order and may look different from person to person and loss to loss.
Diving Into Your Daily Affirmations
Struggling with mental peace not only affects our self-esteem but also our productivity. It’s hard to get through the day constantly thinking about past transgressions and the uncertain future. Quite often we turn to outside means such as the approval of others, distractions, shopping or even substances to try to calm the storm within ourselves. Truth is, everything we need, we already have and everything else is just an extension of the joy we have access to inside.
Keep reading to dig into:
What are affirmations
Why affirmations are a daily necessity
Creating your own affirmations
Getting into the habit
WHAT ARE AFFIRMATIONS
Affirmations are stated or written statements of emotional support or encouragement. We can think of them as a form of self-care that works for our self-esteem and self-concept. They can serve as an anchor when we feel as if we are getting carried away in a sea of negative emotions. They often help to center and remind us of our value and humanity when things start to feel out of control.
Some great examples are simple statements such as: I am worthy, I am valued by my family and friends or My body is strong and healthy, or even, I have a nice smile.
WHY AFFIRMATIONS ARE A DAILY NECESSITY
We have about 90 thousand thoughts each day, more if we struggle with anxiety! 90,000! Of those, for most of us, a majority of those thoughts are negative or at best neutral. If you add to that all of the negative content we get from our environments, the media, and our history the need for daily affirmations becomes more and more apparent to provide some level of counterbalance to the waves of negativity that cross or lay on our mind.
CREATING YOUR OWN AFFIRMATIONS
Writing an affirmation is simple but can feel quite difficult until you get the hang of them. Start with “I” or “My” then follow it up with something positive about yourself. There are so many phrases we can say to help soothe our minds and block out or replace the intrusive discouraging thoughts that weigh us down. It is best to avoid words like can’t or don’t as these words can bring in negativity. Affirmations can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be.
When trying to come up with nice and positive things to say about ourselves is harder than we might like it to be, use the following prompts or others like them to get you started:
When I was a kid I…….
I’ve always been good at…….
My friends like me because……..
In college I……..
Identifying a timeframe or a specific topic can help narrow our focus and make finding an affirmation easier when we’re not faced with plucking one thing out of our overall history of experience.
GETTING INTO THE HABIT
Repeat your affirmations each day and add a new one each day. Overtime you will have a lengthy list to refer to. The goal is to remind ourselves of the greatness that we hold inside that gets bogged down by obsessing over the things we cannot control, comparing ourselves to others, or just feeling hopeless.
To get in the habit of practicing affirmations, set an alarm to remind you of the task or pair it with an activity that you do every single day such as brushing your teeth or drinking water. It takes about 21 days to establish a habit, so patience is important in this process. These moments of positive thought may feel short lived but the more we practice the better they will stick.
We can also say affirmations throughout the day to ground ourselves if we are starting to feel frustrated at work or while trying to manage a difficult task. Coupled with deep breathing, affirmations slow down the heart rate and improve focus. Your therapist will likely have more specific suggestions about how to develop and incorporate affirmations into your daily life based on their in depth knowledge and understanding of who you are.
Insider Tips From Our Psychologists:
Reading Can Empower Your Mental Health Journey
The United States’ schooling system didn’t really do a good job of getting us to enjoy reading as adults. We were so excited to read in primary school, back when it was a shiny, new concept, and we got to read engaging stories in beautifully illustrated picture books. Even as we grew past elementary, some of us still had a passion for reading, and we began to engage with those YA lit novels that still hold a dear place in our hearts- series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and, hilariously, Twilight. But even my friends that would have described themselves as avid readers back then find it hard to pick up any book as an adult. I can guarantee they’ve all got a couple of self-help books that they were really psyched about just collecting dust.
And can you blame us? The books in high school- those “old classics written by masters” didn’t really resonate with a lot of us. Sparknotes wouldn’t be a household name if the class genuinely enjoyed reading those books. We read these books because we were told we’d fail the class if we didn’t- and that pressure and that fear convinced us on a deep level that reading was a stressful activity. We’ve been trained in a Pavlovian fashion to view reading as a chore, something that doesn’t really have an immediate benefit to us, something tiring, boring, and generally, just not worth the effort. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Reading is one of the most powerful things we can do for our mental health, especially now. Reading gives us a chance to escape our life for a while in a productive and enriching way, where other forms of “escape” may be borderline self-harm. Depending on what we choose to read, we have the opportunity to learn a variety of things. As an example, in just the last month I’ve learned budgeting skills, interpersonal skills, and communication skills.
But it can still be difficult to fight that mental block against reading. We were trained to dislike reading and they trained us very well- so how do you work around that block so you can reap all these amazing benefits for your mental health?
1. PICK A BOOK ABOUT SOMETHING YOU KNOW OR ARE HIGHLY INTERESTED IN
Do you remember when the summary of the book was on the back cover? Now it seems like every book is totally decorated with medals and awards and the New York Times Bestseller ranking. I’ve tried (and failed) to read these so-called “best books of the year” and most of the time, I don’t make it past the first chapter. The problem is that I’m just not that interested in the subject matter that tends to make it onto those lists. I’m not interested in reading romance or biographies. I personally would much rather read self-help and research- my favorite book ever is actually a non-fiction book about the mental state of overachieving high-schoolers. And that book was never a bestseller- it just stood out to me one day on a crowded library shelf and 6 years later, it’s the only book I have my own copy of.
But that aside, if you don’t relate to a book’s subject matter, it’s going to be hard to convince yourself to come back to it tomorrow. Finding something that you love is crucial to training yourself to like reading again. Sometimes, that means finding a book about kittens, or a book about gardening, or a book about computers. But if you choose to go the fictional route, maybe that means finding a book about a character that finds themselves in a dead end job, or about someone overcoming a bad relationship with their family, or about someone working through a difficult partnership with a lover (….a tale as old as time!)
Just like a book about cooking can give you insight into why certain spices work well together and some don’t, a book about a character overcoming a similar situation to your own can give you insight into how to best approach a situation. Reading can be an amazing way to walk yourself through a real-life problem and explore potential solutions before you actually take any action. It’s a safe place to explore all the possible avenues without committing to any one in particular, so when you do decide it’s time to act, you’ve thought through all the choices and you’re prepared for what might come next. Reading something like this gives you an amazing opportunity to explore those situations in a safe space so that you can feel empowered to take action.
2. CREATE A ROUTINE AROUND READING
I can almost guarantee that we all have a routine that we’ve built around reading already- it’s just probably not a very beneficial one. My routine when I was required to read in high school normally went something like this:
-Shower and get tucked into bed
- Remember I had a test and an assignment due tomorrow in chapters 4-6 of The Catcher in the Rye.
- Become frustrated that I had to get up at 10 PM to read and do homework
- Read the chapters and become frustrated with the whining of the unrelatable protagonist- he doesn’t know what suffering is. I am awake at 2 AM reading his complaints. I know what suffering is.
- Finish the chapters and crack open my laptop to finish the assignment.
- Write for an hour with the best effort that my fried brain can handle.
- Fall asleep at my desk
- Fail the test anyway, and get a D+ on the paper
Does that experience resonate with you? Through situations like these- I started to believe that reading was a fundamentally stressful task. And because I internalized that, I rarely read outside of what was required.
But, just like my routine when I was reading in high school made me believe reading was strenuous, my current routine surrounding reading is helping me believe that reading is a relaxing and empowering treat. My current routine involves “book shopping” at the library for a few hours with a fancy coffee in my hand. I’ll spend hours hunting for a few books I’m really interested in, and maybe read a few pages while I browse. This whole event is very soothing to me- and when I do find a perfect book, it’s euphoric.
Once I get home and unpack, the book (or the pile of books) claims a front and center spot on my bedside table. From there, I can easily grab it for a relaxing nighttime activity, or an invigorating first-thing-in-the-morning task to enjoy while I sip my coffee.
I like my current routine much better than the old one. And if you’re going to try and build yourself a routine, make sure you build it around things you already love. If you’re a tea fanatic, make yourself a fancy flavor before you sit down to read. Maybe lure your pet over with a small snack so you have a lap warmer while you read if a soft friend is something you enjoy. Put on fancy pajamas if it’s nighttime- anything to make you feel like reading is a luxurious activity. Once you re-establish that routine, you’ll start to love reading again in no time.
3. SIT DOWN AND START
Sometimes, we can let our mind get in the way of doing the things that need to be done because our minds blow them out of proportion. I’m definitely very guilty of this. I’ll admit, there’s a huge box full of recycling right behind me right now that I’ve been ignoring for days because the thought of having to carry that big thing down the steps and out to the dumpster is so overwhelming- even though I know on some level that it won’t take any more than 2 minutes.
Reading can be the same way. I think a lot of us view reading as a very long time commitment or something that we have to dedicate a lot of brainpower too, and so the concept of sitting down to read can become overwhelming really fast. Add in a focus on our health and wellness, and most of us are done before we’ve started. The best thing to do when you feel this way is to just sit down and start. Once you start, it becomes less overwhelming, because starting is really half the battle. And once you start, maybe you’ll find that it’s not as difficult as your mind made it out to be. And suddenly, the idea of sitting with this book for a few hours doesn’t seem so bad after all!