Rising COVID numbers putting increased pressure on mental health this holiday season

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INDIANAPOLIS — COVID-19, the holidays and mental health – a combination for many people that creates stress and difficulties this time of the year.

The current COVID wave is second only to what we saw last year during the holiday months. Daily case counts often at more than 5,000 while hospitals are dealing with the most COVID patients since since early January 2021.

“With the COVID environment still lingering it does indeed cause anxiety and anxiousness,” said Kimberly Rusununguko, a licensed clinical social worker.

Rusununguku said the continued COVID-19 pandemic and the fatigue that has come along with it add onto the stress the holidays already bring.

“People are sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said.

Kimble Richardson, a licensed mental health counselor, said it’s important to give people grace around the holidays.

“Just to have an understanding that we’re all going through tough times, people can be a little but edgier than they perhaps normally are,” Richardson said.

Richardson said if you know the holidays will be stressful on your mental health, plan ahead.

“How much time you may be willing to spend in the situation, have some coping skills on hand that you might like to use,” Richardson said.

On top of COVID concerns adding to anxiety, the disagreements about the virus, regarding masks and vaccines, are causing family’s grief as well. Richardson said boundaries need to be set.

“Let’s call them ground rules, it could be, ‘I will be with the family but not talk about this issue,'” he said.

But, of all the negatives the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to everyone’s mental health, Rusununguko said there has been one big positive. 

“COVID made therapy okay, that word is not so taboo anymore,” she said.

Rusununguko said high-profile athletes and celebrities started to talk more about their own struggles with mental health during the pandemic.

“That gave a lot of people permission to go ahead and take that extra step, if they hadn’t before, to seek help,” she said.

Possibly the biggest difference in this year’s COVID wave and last last year’s is the number of deaths.

The daily counts are roughly a third of what they were this time last year.

Both mental health professionals say planning ahead, understanding your own stress level, and talking about what’s bothering you are keys to helping your mental health this holiday season.

Rusununguko said there are several national free resources available that can be done quickly and at any time for those struggling with their mental health.

She said anybody can dial 211 and get information about mental health resources in their state. In addition, if a person is in crisis, they can text the word “help” to 741-741 and there will be someone on the other end of that text line who can help you. The National Alliance of Mental Illness can also be reached at 1-800-950-6264.

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