5 Tips for Coping With Year-End Stress

I probably don’t have to mention that 2020 has been a stressful year. We all know that at this point, and it’s not getting much better for a lot of people. Some have lost their jobs, some are fighting to keep their businesses open, and many are isolated from family during a time of year when they most want to gather together. Struggles with mental health issues like anxiety and depression are rising rapidly–even the CDC admits that social distancing and stay-at-home orders are related to a dramatic increase in mental health challenges, including an increase in the number of people “seriously considering suicide” (Czeisler, M. et al. “Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” August 14, 2020).

The purpose of this post is not to talk about how stressful 2020 is–we all know first-hand that this is the case. What I want to talk about is ways that we can cope with that stress as the year draws to a close. This is not an exhaustive list of tips for coping with stress. Rather, it’s a collection of ones that I’ve personally found helpful and/or which I’ve known helped other people. I hope you find something in here that is useful for you 🙂

1. Stop Isolating

Depending on your exact situation and government rulings in the location where you live, this recommendation is going to look quite different for different people. Human beings are social creatures–even the most introverted among us does not do well in prolonged isolation. We need positive human interaction to stay sane and healthy. The form those interactions take, though, can vary widely, especially with modern technology.

We often think of socializing something that needs to involve large groups of people, but there’s no reason to limit socializing to big events if you don’t think that’s practical or safe. Getting together with a friend for lunch (in places where restaurants are open) or inviting a couple people over for dinner can just as easily fill your need for socialization. If you’re lucky enough to live in the same house with at least one person that you like, you also have an option for socialization right there. Maybe you plan a day to spend doing something together, like bake a special meal for the two of you as my sister and I did this year for Thanksgiving.

If there are no opportunities for in-person interaction, take advantage of the options that technology offers for video and/or phone calls. My sister, cousin, and I have a Zoom meeting each week to chat and watch Netflix together (right now it’s Star Trek: The Original Series). If you don’t already know someone to meet with, there are groups online that you can join such as virtual book clubs. Whatever method you choose to break out of isolation, the key is to make sure you’re having some kind of positive interaction.

2. Unplug and Take Time

I feel like so often we get wrapped up in following the news, or stressing about whatever it is that most worries us, or pushing ourselves to go non-stop that we just wind ourselves tighter and tighter until something snaps. Before that “snap” happens, why not take a moment to step outside the franticness of modern life and take some time for yourself?

Our culture is fast-paced, and social media algorithms are designed to keep pulling you into ever more extreme versions of whatever it is you’re looking at. But we’re the ones who get to make decisions about what we do with our time, our eyes, our minds, and our feelings. We have the power to step away from all that and choose to do something more productive and less stressful with our time. Read a book, set aside time for prayer and Bible Study, do something creative, or click here and try one of these self-care tips.

You don’t need to hide under a rock and avoid everything going on in the world, but you do need to take time to care for yourself and do things that really matter. The world isn’t going to end if you get off social media for a week or if you ignore the news for a couple days over the weekend. You don’t actually have to listen to or internalize all the fear mongering, division spreading stuff that it’s so easy to find online, on the TV, and on the radio. There are better things we can do with our time. As I write those words, Toby Keith’s song “My List” just popped into my head. It was released as a single in 2002, shortly after a different national disaster, and I think it still has a relevant message today.

3. Breathe and Move

Breathing seems like a very simple thing. We do it automatically all day, every day. Most of us don’t notice or think about our breath unless breathing becomes difficult for some reason. Cultivating a deep, conscious breath practice, though, can be one of the best things we can do for our overall health, especially if it’s paired with some kind of an exercise practice.

My dad has done more research into this than I have, so I’ll share a couple of resources that he likes. He’s an advocate of the Wim Hoff Method and he’s also been recommending the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (please note this is an affiliate link). You might want to check those out if this is a topic that interests you.

My own experiences with deep breathing come through cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga. CBT uses deep breathing as one method for managing anxiety (if you click here, I talk more about that in this post). In yoga, deep breathing is paired with physical movements to strengthen and balance breath, body, and mind. On that note, my favorite YouTube yoga teacher is offering a free 30-days of yoga series starting in January that is focused on conscious breath. Her annual 30 Day of Yoga program has become my favorite way to start a new year. You can click here to learn more or sign up for her 2021 “Breath” series.

Further reading: “Are Yoga and Meditation Okay For Christians?

4. Pick A Theme For Next Year

I won’t spend too much time on this point since I had a whole post on it last week (click here to read that). The basic idea is that you should toss New Year’s Resolutions out the window (they basically just set you up for failure since most of us know we’re not going to stick with them) and instead pick a “theme” or “intention” for the year. Themes are more vague and more adaptable than resolutions, and that means they’re something you’re more likely to stick with. They still push you in a positive direction, though, which is something we always want in personal growth.

Picking a theme like “Year of Health” or seasonal themes like “Winter of Self-Care” and “Spring of Connection” is a great way to set yourself up for a more positive year ahead. And having something to look forward to next year (especially something that we have some measure of control over) can make it easier to cope with end-of-the-year stress right now.

5. Talk with A Counselor

Mental health isn’t something to take lightly. I know from experience that it can be hard to ask for help with something that’s happening inside your own mind. Maybe you don’t think what you’re dealing “bad enough” to justify seeing a counselor, or you worry that you can’t afford to take time and resources away from other things, or you think others will judge you for going into therapy. But it really is okay to get help.

Trying to deal with a mental health issue on your own is rarely a good idea, especially if its become something that impacts your quality of life or overwhelms your thoughts. Please go get proper help from a therapist, counselor, or other psychology/medical professional. Click here to access Psychology Today’s directory of mental health professionals and find a therapist or psychiatrist near you. There are also online options that may be more affordable and/or more accessible, especially given the current situation with COVID-19.

I hope that you all find ways to end this year with peace and hope in your hearts. There are many reasons to be fearful and stressed, but we can still choose to keep living, loving, and hoping.

Featured image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

10 Ideas for Introvert Friendly Socialization

Introverts need people. This isn’t something you’ll hear about very often, though. Most of the time, you’ll either hear people who are critical of introverts complaining about how unsociable we are or you’ll hear introverts talking about how much we dislike being around other people.

Humans are social creatures, however. We have different preferences for how much and in what ways we socialize, but we all need other people. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you hate people. It just means that you’re born with a trait that makes you prefer the internal world. It means you re-charge better in quiet, low-stimulation environments, not that you do well in social isolation.

It’s no exaggeration to say that isolation can be deadly. Living in loneliness has a serious impact on our health. In fact, “The increased mortality risk is comparable to that from smoking. And loneliness is about twice as dangerous as obesity. Social isolation impairs immune function and boosts inflammation, which can lead to arthritis, type II diabetes, and heart disease” (“Loneliness Is Deadly” by Jessica Olien). And that’s just the physical health risks. Loneliness also damages our mental and emotional health, often leading to issues like increased stress, depression, and alcoholism (“The Dangers of Loneliness by Hara Estroff Marano).

So what’s an introvert to do? If you don’t like typical social events or groups, how do you avoid the mental and physical health risks of loneliness while also honoring your introverted nature?

This list includes tips for introvert-friendly ways to socialize with other people. Some of these assume you’re trying to meet new people, while others are great for doing with people you already know.

10 Ideas for Introvert Friendly Socialization | LikeAnAnchor.com
Photo credit: Dimitris Vetsikas via Pixabay

1) Attend An Interesting Event

It’s not all that difficult to find out about events going on in your local area. Check city websites, Google “local events,” or browse through events on Facebook. There’s bound to be something in the area that interests you and there are often options for small gatherings (like a morning yoga meet-up) as well as larger ones. If you’re at an event that interests you, you have a good chance of meeting people with similar interests and perhaps even finding a local group to join. Read more

Introverts Need People Too: A Closer Look At Introversion and Social Anxiety

A lot of introvert-themed posts that you see around this time of year are things like “An Introverts Guide To Surviving the Holidays” or “How Not to Run In Terror From Your Extrovert Relatives.” That last one’s not an actual article, but it’s pretty close to some I’ve seen.

Often, writers of articles like this assume introverts don’t like people, that they’re always overwhelmed in social situations, and that they hate parties. But being on-edge in social situations, panicking when you have to interact with people, and going out of your way to avoid places where people gather aren’t actually signs of introversion. Those things are more a part of social anxiety.

Definition Conundrums

Part of the reason for this confusion is that people don’t understand what being an introvert actually means. For example, (despite numerous complaints and petitions) if you Google “introvert definition” the first thing that comes up is “a shy, reticent person.” Only if you expand the Google result to see translations, word origin, and other definitions do you finally get something a little closer to the correct result: “a person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things.”

Introverts Need People Too: A Closer Look At Introversion and Social Anxiety | LikeAnAnchor.com

Being an introvert doesn’t make you socially awkward. It doesn’t mean you hate people. Being an introvert means that you’re born with a trait that gives you a preference for the internal world. It also means you re-charge better in quiet, low-stimulation environments (usually alone, but not always). Introverts might avoid parties, but if so they do it because they’d rather be somewhere else (like at home reading or hanging our with a small group of friends), not because they’re inherently shy or scared of interacting with others. Read more

My Homeschool Socialization Story

An introverted homeschooler's views on socialization at school marissabaker.wordpress.com
a picture of a much-younger me

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Marissa whose parents were worried about her going to kindergarten. She was going to be away from home all day, five days a week for the first time in her life. So her mother enrolled her in a summer school program where she would only be gone half a day, to help her get accustomed to being away from home.

Every time Marissa was dropped off at this school, her little sister would cry because Marissa was being abandoned. Years later, there are only two things Marissa remembers about this experience. One was that the teachers wanted her to take naps on a thin blue pad in the middle of a large room filled with strange people. She never slept because she was too nervous, but she had to lay there anyway. The second is hiding under the playset outside the school when all the children were sent outside so she wouldn’t have to face the other children (her mother says one of the boys hit her, but she must have blocked this memory).

One day, when Marissa’s mother picked her up from school, Marissa was crying. She asked, “Have I been away long enough? Can I come home now?” This broke her father’s heart, and he decreed that Marissa would never have to go back to school again.

After this short summer, I was homeschooled through all twelve years of elementary, middle, and high school. My sister also graduated from our homeschool, and my brother is currently finishing up high school at home. I’m one of those homeschooling success stories who went to college, earned better grades there than I did in high school from my mom, and earned my B.A. along with an undergrad research project that I’ve been assured could have gotten me into grad school and on track for my English PhD.

Socializing Homeschoolers

The previous paragraph aside, my goal today is not to defend the academic merits of homeschooling. I want to talk about socialization. Last week, a friend shared with me a great blog post that covered everything from the hypocrisy of America’s talk about “diversity,” to the merits of homeschooling, to defending introverts. In this post, Matt Walsh addressed the frequent claim that we need to send our children to public schools so they can “be socialized.”

In fact, kids who are homeschooled tend to be much better in “social situations” because they learned how to socialize from adults, rather than aping the personality traits of their peers. Public school doesn’t make kids “sociable,” and I think you could more accurately argue for the opposite. The whole concept that we need to send our children to government facilities to be “socialized” makes me shudder. Our children aren’t animals, and I wish we’d stop speaking about them as if they were.

This is a common argument from homeschool families and homeschooling supporters. I don’t exactly want to argue against it, but I have to admit my experiences are somewhat different. While the homeschooled me was quite comfortable socializing with adults and people younger than me, I was never very comfortable in my peer group (a fact that hasn’t changed much, though I’m a little more confident around other young people since going through college). The flip side of this is public school kids I’ve met who ignore younger kids and make no effort to hide the fact that they don’t want to talk with adults. There are, of course, both homeschoolers and public schoolers who are comfortable socializing with anyone and everyone (I suspect this is a personality-type thing more than a where-they-went-to-school thing).

Introverts in School

In a book titled Introvert Power, Laurie Helgoe (who holds a PhD in psychology) discusses the pressures that introverts face in an extroverted society, including the public school system.

In an extroverted society, we rarely see ourselves in the mirror. We get alienating feedback. Alienating feedback comes in the form of repeated encouragement to join or talk, puzzled expressions, well-intended concern, and sometimes, all-out pointing and laughing. … Alienating feedback happens where neighborhoods, schools, and offices provide no place to retreat. Alienating feedback happens when our quiet spaces and wilderness sanctuaries are seen as places to colonize.

Unfortunately, I don’t have her book in front of me at the moment and can’t find the other quote I wanted online. I’ll have to make do with a paraphrase. In her discussion of the school system, Helgoe talks about how the emphasis on group projects and participation in class can sabotage introverted children’s efforts to learn. Her idea isn’t to completely do away with this kind of work, but that schools should cater to different learning needs instead of trying to fit everyone into the extrovert-ideal mold. In the absence of such an education environment, she suggest homeschooling can be the best environment for an introverted child to learn because it allows them to utilize their strengths and can more easily be designed to fit individual children.

My Experiences

An introverted homeschooler's views on socialization at school marissabaker.wordpress.com
from Pinterest

Though I did have friends my age while growing up — most through church, a few through homeschool groups — I did not really interact with a wide variety of people my age until I started college. There, I got a taste of what it might have been like for me to have gone to public school. After settling into life at college, I usually ate alone while reading, talked in class only when I was called on or had an idea I really wanted to share, and socialized with a few people one-on-one or in (very) small groups. And, in spite of the teacher who proclaimed that people eating alone was the most pathetic thing in the world because at heart we are (or should be) social animals, I was content with the level of socialization I enjoyed/avoided at college.

I don’t know exactly what would have happened had I been in public school instead of homeschooled those twelve years. If thrown into the social environment of public school while growing up, I might have made friends and “crawled out of my shell.” However, I suspect it would have been much more like my summer school experience and my first quarter of college, except without the confidence gained by twelve years of studying on my own and being told it was okay to be bookish. My basic personality would not have altered, but I would have felt pressured to hide my quietness and conform instead of being supported in my personal growth. Like Beatrix Potter says in this quote, “Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.” The world doesn’t need cookie-cutter minions popped out of identical molds and taught identical things. It needs a wide variety of people who have been given the chance to shine using their individual talents. And that is something homeschooling is uniquely suited to do.