When the sun is shining and the sidewalk is warm, there are plenty of ways to get outside and shake that pandemic loneliness and cabin fever. But when the days get shorter and the ground gets colder, a lot of our go-to activities for relieving stress and managing anxiety are no longer an option. Carefully fold in the holidays, and everyone is going to need self-care more than ever this year. While our community has some fantastic resources for when things start to feel unmanageable (see below), here are some small steps you can take when things inevitably feel more difficult than usual this unique holiday season:
• Step outside. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s slippery, please be careful. A few deep breaths outside, along with the change of scenery, can really go a long way to decompress. Not only does the chill wake up our skin and lungs, but it reminds us just how cozy it is inside, and gratitude is always en vogue.
• Reach out. Reaching out isn’t going to look the same as last year, and that’s OK. This year has forced us to be more creative than ever in how we express and cultivate our relationships. A text to meet up for happy hour may need to be replaced by exchanging pictures in a group text. Holiday shopping with grandparents could be replaced with writing about a memory the two of you share and mailing it to them. Although nothing can replace our pre-COVID social lives, even small connections can help fill our want to be together at this time of the year.
• Breathe. Only have one minute? How about 30 seconds? Square breathing is the perfect way to give yourself a 30 second reset. While deep breathing is great to clear the mind, there are also added cardiovascular benefits. When your lungs are getting plenty of air, the brain tells the rest of the body that there is no need for the stress response which includes a higher heart rate and blood pressure. Square breathing is a great skill to teach to, and practice with, even the youngest in your family since all you need to do is count to four. Breathe in while counting to four, hold for four, let it out for four, and hold while empty for four. Repeat once. It doesn’t matter how slow or fast you count nor the number of times you complete the square, what really matters is that you recognized you needed a moment and gave yourself one.
• Engage your senses. Each one of our senses is an opportunity for comfort. When done with intention something as simple as putting an ice pack on your neck or biting into a piece of chocolate can tickle our senses and bring us into the present moment. For vision try looking through pictures or finding an animal to watch outside. Hearing can be as complex as appreciating your favorite holiday album or as simple as listening to your dog snore. More of a touch person? Spend a minute feeling your pulse or hold a handful of ice cubes if you’re in for a big change. Whether it’s a couple of minutes or an entire hour, taking time to stop and really focus on your senses will be a much-needed break from reality 2020.
If something doesn’t work, move on to another. There’s no right way to handle stress, and often we need to change our methods to keep up with how quickly that holiday anxiety can build. Especially in a year where no one is at their best, each and every second we spend caring for our own mental health will not only impact us, but will radiate to those around us.
CommUnity is the national leader for chatting services via the National Suicide Hotline. We talk to thousands of people each month from all over the world, and we could not do it without our volunteers. Thinking of getting involved? Our Food Bank has an immediate need for in-person volunteers (https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f0a45afa922a6fd0-1045), and our Crisis Intervention program has remote training opportunities available.
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• When things start to feel unmanageable: Iowacrisischat.org; Iowa Crisis Line 1-855-325-4296; Mobile Crisis Outreach 1-855-800-1239
Hannah Green is crisis intervention operations coordinator at CommUnity in Iowa City.