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