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In the wake of a global pandemic, social unrest and one of the most historical elections of our lifetime, emotional well-being and self-care are essential. 

While the period between Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day ushers in a fair amount of holiday-related stress, this year’s emotional toll has the potential to be greater than years past due to stressors like health concerns, limits on gathering and job loss.

According to an NBC News analysis last month, more than 1 in 4 in the U.S. reported having felt anxious more than half of the previous seven days, while nearly 1 in 5 people reported feelings of depression. Considering that Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population underscores what we know to be true of this year — if ever there were a time to prioritize wellness, this is it.

QCity Metro turned to Deona Frierson, a licensed clinical social worker and relationship expert, for insight on how to successfully navigate the 2020 holiday season with your well-being intact.

Photo courtesy of Deona Frierson

Frierson founded ProCure Therapeutic Agency, Inc. in 2008, which offers evidence-based mental and behavioral health services. Last year, she established a wellness and meditation center to focus on brain health, mindfulness and NeuroMeditation. 

Questions and answers have been lightly edited.

2020 has been a rather tumultuous year. Can you talk about key challenges experienced by those you’ve served this year and how this compares to years prior?

2020 has brought the collective challenge of trauma and survival. Through the years, I have served persons who present with symptoms of trauma, anxiety, depression and relationship concerns. This year, most of my clients and I have the same intersecting concerns: fear of the future and/or adjustment issues due to the impact of Covid-19. 

For communities of color, navigating through life with a dysregulated nervous system (always in fight-or-flight mode) has been the norm. Understanding the impact that trauma, intergenerational trauma and unresolved stress has on our nervous system — and treating it — has been a priority in 2020. 

Our bodies are wired to return to a state of equilibrium and self-regulation. In the current climate, this is not happening naturally because we are continuously impacted by the threat of Covid-19, lack of accessible health care and the systemic inequalities that exist in our country. 

This year, working through life’s challenges is different because the majority of clients that I am serving are learning the importance of regulating their nervous system to not only be in a state of calm and ease but to reduce the impact of a weakened immune system during this global pandemic. There has also been a greater need for communal care to compensate for the adverse impacts of Covid on feelings of connectedness.  

What are the key signs and symptoms of holiday stress?  

Symptoms associated with holiday stress include lack of boundaries, overspending and feeling overwhelmed. Holiday stress may be coupled with anxiety, fear of the future, grief, depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation. 

How might holiday stress look different this year?

This year might look different due to lack of being physically present, lack of holiday celebrations and the impact of Covid-19. During this time in the past, many of us looked forward to our holiday break, traveling and sharing time and space with loved ones. For many of us, that will not be happening. Thinking of new traditions and how to make this holiday season meaningful may also create a different type of stress this year. 

What shifts, if any, have you observed in the prevalence of individuals seeking therapy? 

There has been an increase of individuals, couples and families seeking therapeutic support this season. Many people are utilizing therapy and are normalizing the need for mental, emotional and relational health treatment. I have found myself serving clients using grounding techniques, meditation and somatic approaches to healing, in addition to the traditional modalities that I use. 

Typically, physical health has been the focus and is usually prioritized. Because of the global pandemic, now more than ever people are working toward keeping themselves and their families healthy and strong physically and psychologically. The impact has amplified the voices of therapists and healers around the world sharing a clear message: Your mental and emotional health matter. Caring for your whole self matters.

What types of self-care would you recommend?   

I believe that there is a collective need for each of us to care for ourselves in a more gentle and compassionate way during this time.

  • Establish and articulate boundaries that honor what you want and need. 
  • Unplug from the news, social media and any source that makes you feel anxious, worried or fearful. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Name five things that you see, four things that you hear, three things that you can feel, two things that you can smell and one thing that you can taste.
  • Take some time each day to be still. Be mindful of your breath. Become aware of what you may need in the moment and offer it to yourself. 
  • Spend time outdoors breathing in fresh air. Take a walk or just sit and enjoy nature. 
  • Ensure that you are getting enough sleep each night. Our bodies heal themselves when we are asleep. 
  • Nourish your body through movement, eat nutritious living foods (herbs, fruits and vegetables) and stay hydrated. 
  • Practice gratitude. Think of one thing that you are grateful for every morning or evening. 
  • Cultivate your relationship with yourself and others. Maintain a healthy social support network. Utilize technology to connect in a deeper, more meaningful way. Remember that physical distance and social distance have two different meanings.
  • Go to therapy. You do not have to figure out life’s challenges alone. 

Right now, licensed therapists are providing virtual services. Licensed therapists are offering free and discounted/sliding scale services. For more information, visit such resources such as Mental Health America of Central CarolinasTherapy for Black Girls and BetterHelp

Anything else to add?

One thing that I know for sure is that we are resilient. As human beings, we have the ability to thrive and heal. If you are reading this, you are still here, your life is valuable and matters. Take a moment and reflect on your life.

As we end this unconventional year, recognize that you can hold two truths at one time. You can be fearful of the unknown and have a sense of deep gratitude for those things that may be going well in your life. Not only is self-care important during this time, but community care is equally as valuable. Although we are physically distancing, be creative on ways you can connect and find support via FaceTime, Zoom or telehealth. 

2020 has been a year that I know I will not forget in my lifetime. It has been a year of great loss and a new way of navigating through life. Stay encouraged.

Sabrina Clark is a NY native who enjoys the South, but still loves the perfect view of a city skyline. She’s a social worker and child advocate who finds her zen by enjoying all that Charlotte has to...

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