(LA Trend) — As the CDC and local health departments urge people not to travel or gather with people outside of their immediate households, many people are reconfiguring their expectations for “the most wonderful time of the year.”
The ongoing pandemic and Los Angeles’ record-breaking COVID-19 cases are adding to the stress of what is already a difficult time for many. With family gatherings and traditional celebrations off the table and finances stretched tight, it’s no wonder that people are feeling stretched this holiday season.
According to a recent survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the holiday season makes mental health issues worse. Almost a quarter of those with diagnosed mental illness said the holidays made their condition “a lot worse” and forty percent of respondents said the holidays made their mental health “somewhat worse.”
“The main thing that’s hit people during the pandemic is the uncertainty of it all. Fear mixed with uncertainty creates anxiety,” said Elisha Goldstein, Founder of The Center for Mindful Living. This practice integrates mindfulness with psychotherapy and recently launched a series of free online courses for people to connect and learn the practice of mindfulness.
“In general, the topics that are very top of mind for people in Los Angeles is anxiety around the holidays,” said Kendall Bird, the co-founder of Frame, a web-based service for those seeking therapists.
Similar to a dating app, Frame matches users with therapists based on a ten question survey. After users get their matches, they are encouraged to schedule a free consultation with their six therapist matches. Current options include one-on-one therapy and couples counseling.
Mental health issues can manifest differently in each person. If you find yourself unable to concentrate during zoom meetings, crying throughout the day, or dealing with unexplained lethargy, you’re not alone.
“The second thing that impacts people is the grief, I call them the ‘grief bombs,’ you’re mourning the loss of the life that you had. You’re experiencing that deficit. That impacts our relationships, that impacts the work that we do, and how we take care of our physical self,” Goldstein said.
It’s no surprise that unhealthy coping mechanisms have become popular during the pandemic. When people are unable to connect, they may turn to comforts like alcohol, junk food, or marijuana. Online alcohol sales increased more than 400 percent during 2020 and cannabis sales have jumped as well.
“We launched Frame during the pandemic. Our first service is for people who have never been to therapy, for them, we offer Discussions, which are livestream conversations between a therapist and a volunteer participant. This is a way for people to get a sense of what therapy is,” Bird said.
Bird partnered with Sage Grazer, a psychotherapist, to create Frame and help make finding therapy more accessible. She says feedback from both users and therapists have been positive.
“It allows you to connect in a completely unobtrusive way to people who may be experiencing the same feeling as you. You feel seen and heard and not alone,” Bird said.
Studies show that feelings of interconnectedness boost mental and well as physical health. A study in the medical journal The Lancet reported that technology and social media can help people feel connected despite mandatory quarantining.
There’s a reason that video conferencing app Zoom has become a household name. Over 300 million people attend Zoom meetings daily. Social video calls have a demonstrated positive effect on nursing home residents, according to a study published in BMC Geriatrics.
“When you look back in history, you see we’ve had so many different long periods of having to endure hardships but they come and go. We tell our brain, ‘I’m not alone in this.’ Suffering is a part of being human,” Goldstein said. He recommends that people acknowledge these feelings and use a practice of mindfulness to reduce anxiety and redirect the mind towards something that will be more supportive of mental health.
Supportive measures can include mindfulness, therapy, and other healthy habits. Goldstein describes mindfulness as intentional awareness and jokes that it’s not just for yogis.
“Mindfulness simply means awareness and it’s an action of intentionally paying attention to anything in life with an engaged curiosity. It’s a way of life,” Goldstein said. “You can be present to the things you’re doing, you can know you’re walking while you’re walking, and not be worrying about some anticipated thing in the future or paying attention to something in the past…it’s taking time out for yourself intentionally.”