More and more people are talking about the 2020 election during therapy. From anxiety and fear to hopelessness and rage, people are scared…and tired. With just over 30 days until election day and the first presidential debate scheduled for tomorrow (September 28), the cumulative stress is starting to weigh us down. We’ve been dealing with this anxiety for almost six years (if you consider the lead-up into 2016) and, while many are cautiously optimistic for a change in 2021, the division and rancor that has taken hold of our society is like here for quite some time.
Back in mid-March when New York began shutting down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people quickly adjusted to phone, Facetime or Zoom sessions with their therapist. If you were anything like me at the time, I assumed that by the middle of the summer we’d all be back to in-person sessions. Now, as we stare down the final days of summer and uncertainty around work and school schedules, it seems that virtual therapy is here to stay. Many of us have not only adapted to virtual (telehealth) sessions but we have embraced them – despite the drawbacks. After five full months of sessions over Zoom, I’ve come up with some practical tips and suggestions to make the most out of your virtual sessions.
Most people equate “mental health” with anxiety and depression. It makes sense seeing that almost 20% of the U.S. adult population in a given year is diagnosed with any type anxiety disorder (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml). Statistics also indicate that nearly a third of U.S. adults will experience some type of anxiety disorder in their lifetime – yet only around a third of those people will actually seek treatment (https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics).
But what if some anxiety could actually help us?
Two weeks ago, our nation entered into the reality of life in the age of COVID-19. Regardless of where you got your information, there was a noticeable shift in our collective attention to the severity of what Asia and Europe had already come face-to-face with. Within the scope of three days, conferences were cancelled, stadiums emptied, churches went virtual and schools began to close. Living in New York, we were (and are) literally on the front lines of this pandemic. I remember heading to the grocery store two Thursdays ago to get a few more items that we missed on our previous “preparedness run.” The lines, crowds and overflowing carts felt like the day before Thanksgiving collided with a classic Northeastern “Snowpocalypse.” Come Monday, countless companies and agencies scrambled to get their workforce remote-ready “out of an abundance of caution.” If your experience was anything like mine, week one of “Social Distancing” was disorienting, disruptive and filled with anxiety.
Welcome to the middle of week two.
One of my colleagues asked me if it was silly to invest all of this time and energy into developing remote working capabilities and attending countless webinars on the subjects of mental health, COVID-19 and innovative ways of sustaining and thriving in this new environment. Afterall, she argued, we could be back to “normal” in four weeks or so. Perhaps. But probably not. I’ve struggled with how to adjust, however temporary, to what we all are experiencing. I’ve felt anxiety like I never have before. I’ve caught myself standing in the middle of my living room unsure of what to do and where to move. I’ve sat down at the end of a long day and felt like weeping.
Welcome to collective grief.
I’ve been thinking about all of the things that we’ve “lost” – social connections that we under-valued, a sense of security that was over-estimated and the luxury of stability in a world that we can’t control. I’ve not only seen others go through the range of emotions that often accompany death, I’ve experienced many of them myself. I think it’s fair to say that something (and for many someone) has been taken away from us with what feels like little to no warning. Just like with death, we eventually get back to the business of living…but we are changed.
Welcome to now.
Wherever you are emotionally at this moment is where you need to be. You may hate it. You may think its unfair. You may think everyone else is overreacting. You may be scared shitless. Own your emotions – but let others own theirs, too. Pay attention to yourself and pay attention to those close to you. You may be that person who laughs at funerals but right now you also need to be the person whose shoulder gets wet from your sister’s tears. We all can be both what we need for ourselves and what others need from us. Once you’re ready to move on to a different understanding and experience of this current reality you will.
Cooking meals, traveling with (or to) family, shopping and gift-giving, office parties, decorating your home, navigating work, school and family obligations…no wonder the holidays are exhausting! Beyond the challenges and stresses of all of the doing, the holidays can often feel like an emotional version of a fruitcake: a bunch of different stuff baked into something that you either love or hate and have no idea what to do with. Paying attention to and supporting your emotional health and wellbeing is important all year long but can be especially difficult during the holidays. I’m here to tell you: it’s okay to be sad during the holidays.
Many people feel pressure to “put on a happy face” during the holidays because it’s what we think we’re supposed to do. With wall-to-wall Christmas everywhere, it’s easy fall into a trap of thinking that you’re the only one who’s sad, blue, or just not in the spirit. Whether you’ve recently lost a loved one, ended a relationship or struggle with financial pressures, sadness can tell us that we’re missing or need something that is not there. Focus on the why and not the what that you’re feeling reach out for help and support if these emotions get in the way of your day-to-day living.
Similar to my earlier post about dealing with difficult family members, it’s about understanding why you are feeling a certain way. “But getting dumped and being alone and broke at Christmas sucks, that’s why!” you might say. Why is being in a relationship important to you? Why is being alone during the holidays difficult for you? Why is being broke in December different than, say, in March?
By focusing on your needs rather than how much of an asshole your ex is for dumping you at Thanksgiving (which, to be fair is pretty high on the Asshole Registry), you might discover that you want a partner who shares your passion for rescue kittens and that the way you were taught to express gratitude and love was through giving and receiving presents. You might discover that you’ve been willing to accept emotional disconnection with others because on the surface it looks better than being single and going into debit to buy presents is far less painful than examining your relationship to true gratitude and belonging.
Go ahead and put on that sad Christmas album, scarf down a few gingerbread men and have a good cry. When you’re done, ask yourself, “What are these emotions telling me and why are they important?” So, if on January 5th you’re still feeling stuck and downing cookies over a long cry, reach out for help. Otherwise, it’s time to take down the tree and get back to the gym.
Want another perspective? Check out this article from PsychCentral.
There’s nothing quite like a family gathered around a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night telling stories, sharing memories and enjoying the beauty of the holiday season…unless, that is, you’re actually human and not a Norman Rockwell drawing. Most of us have a romanticized and unrealistic view what time with our family around the holidays should look like – that somehow, somewhere out there is a perfect representation of whatever postcard/film/classic novel-type idea we have somewhere in our mind. This often results in a range of emotions from frustration to disillusionment and usually leaves us feeling let down and disappointed with others and ourselves.
Most of our difficulties with our families when it comes to celebrating the holidays is not with our families per se, but with our beliefs about who they should be. In simple terms it’s about expectation versus reality. This is not to say, however, that we should accept abusive, demeaning or disrespectful behaviors from anyone – especially not our family members.
You may get frustrated and insulted when your college-aged children come home for Christmas and spend most of their time on their phones seemingly disinterested in being with you at all. This isn’t about them and their attachment to their phones: it’s about your desire for connection and sharing with your children.
Your blood may boil knowing that you are seated for dinner next to Uncle Steve who not only voted for Trump but continues to post insulting and offensive comments on your political Facebook posts. This isn’t about Uncle Steve and his political views: it’s about your belief that family members should be respectful and considerate of others – even online.
Your cringe at the thought of having to spend a week with your father who only seems interested in talking about sports and seems to dismiss anything important in your life. This isn’t about your dad and disinterest in your life: it’s about your belief that your parents should take an active interest and investment in what you are doing and what interest you.
Rethinking (or reframing) the way we see these, and similar situations can have a beneficial effect on our emotions, mental health and even your relationship with your family. By shifting the focus away from what you want someone else to start or stop doing, you claim ownership of your values and priorities in your relationships. I am not naïve to suggest that any of this is easy or 100% effective at reducing stress with your family at the holidays (or any other time of the year). By clarifying your needs for others, you give them an opportunity to either meet those needs to explain why they may be unable or unwilling to do so.
I’m sharing a great article on politics and family in the ear of Trump as well as 17 Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress (for those of you that like lists). As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments and feedback!
Even the most spirit-filled among us eventually get a little worn down in December: holiday parties, shopping for gifts, relentless Christmas music and saccharine declarations of “peace, love and joy.” No matter what your religious or celebratory affiliations are, December is tough. It often leaves people feeling worn out, a little jaded and sometimes depressed. Here are some thoughts about making it through the month without all the baggage…and perhaps a little more joy than last year.
Menorahs. Dating back to the time of Moses, I see the Menorah and the lighting of the candles not only a rich part of Jewish culture and heritage, but also as a symbol and act of experiencing our history in the moment. The holidays are full of traditions and symbols that, quite frankly, don’t make any sense in 2018…but we do them anyway. Our traditions—especially in December—connect us to our past and act as a bridge to future generations. Whether it is attending Midnight Mass, baking grandma’s famous cookies or watching It’s a Beautiful Life, try reconnecting to the traditions that mean something to you and your family.
Amazon. Christmas is commercial. We need to get over it because it’s not changing. Personally, I make a conscious choice not to do any non-essential shopping until after Thanksgiving because the “Christmas creep” totally ruins the season for me. I am not going to suggest that you hand-make all of your holiday gifts and wrap them in newspaper—if you love shopping have at it! Just make sure that when you’re shopping it’s with intention. If you can’t find that “perfect” gift for cousin Norbert, then maybe you need to rethink giving him a gift. My take on shopping in December is this: no one is forcing you to shop and consume...step back and think before you swipe (or insert or tap…or whatever we are doing these days).
*For my most cherished gift, see below
Plastic baby Jesus. I’m not a “kid person.” I mean in theory they’re cute but I really didn’t grow up around other kids and we don’t have friends with kids. Kids to me are like tree sloths: cute in pictures, rare in everyday life and a little bit scary once you encounter one that’s hungry or tired. But no matter how foreign they are to me and how awkward I feel when a baby laughs at me while in line at the grocery, it’s really hard to not to smile at them. Whatever your thoughts on religion and especially “the Church,” I encourage you to keep in mind that most people aren’t trying to convert you when they say “Merry Christmas”; they simply are trying to be nice with a seasonal greeting. And to those who get their knickers in a twist with “Happy Holidays”; stop, just stop...you’re acting like an old man who scowls at a happy baby.
* My most cherished gift (sorry mom!) was a used book of English carols given to me by my high school choir director. At the time I was disappointed it wasn’t a CD but over time it’s come to mean more to me than anything else I remember receiving.
My thoughts and reactions to the world in which we live...completely biased and unfiltered.