2020 has presented challenges of biblical proportion and we haven’t even reached the holidays.
“I can say that, speaking to colleagues across the board in our profession, there are a lot of people struggling in this time due to isolation or job stress,” Alexander City-based counselor Dr. Christi D. Jones said. “There has been an uptick in people seeking services.”
Jones is a counselor educator at Faulkner University also counsels private clients. She spent 15 years as a school counselor at Dadeville Elementary.
The holiday season has always been a difficult time for those dealing with depression or stress, Jones said. To add insult to injury, coronavirus cases in the U.S. have reached record rates and last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged Americans not to travel or gather for the holidays.
“Holidays can be hard during normal times even when you’re struggling with grief or don’t have family when everyone is getting together,” Jones said. “This year will be challenging for a lot of people because things will look different.”
The list of potential stressors is long.
“I think if you have spent any time on any type of social media you are aware that a lot of people are anxious about where we are in the country right now,” Jones said. “We are in a time of uncertainty.”
With over a quarter million deaths in the U.S. so far due to the coronavirus pandemic, for many, the holidays will contain a notable absence this year. Others who usually travel to see family may find themselves isolated this Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“This year you might have a lot of people celebrating alone,” Jones said. “If you have someone that’s experiencing a loss that can be hard. That first holiday alone can be really hard.”
The holidays also carry financial pressures, like the expectation to have gifts for everyone, Jones said.
“I think it’s about the expectation that makes it hard,” Jones said. “You compare yourself to people.”
With the current situation, others may not be able to live up to the holiday season they’re used to.
“I think this is the year to think outside the box,” she said.
Jones, for example, will be “gathering” with extended family via Zoom this Thanksgiving.
“The expectation and the reality sometimes look very different,” Jones said. “Instead of trying to look for perfection, look for those imperfectly perfect moments.”
That’s not to mention those who already struggle with depression or anxiety, for whom the holidays can be especially difficult. Jones recommends her clients have a plan.
“People have coping strategies that are either good for you or bad for you,” Jones said. “Try to replace negative coping (strategies) with positive ones.”
Having a plan will make it harder to fall back on the negative strategies, Jones said.
Jones also suggests breathing exercises, writing in a journal, setting aside time for oneself and reaching out to friends as tactics for dealing with stress.
“If we can recognize our own triggers, we can know when we need to step away,” Jones said. “Figure out what works.”
Above all, however, Jones hopes people will normalize mental healthcare.
“If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health specialist,” she said. “I hope eventually we reach a place where people realize this is just another type of healthcare.”