For those currently struggling with their mental health, navigating the holidays in addition to a pandemic can be especially difficult.
Elisha Contner Wilkins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Eating Disorders Specialist at Veritas Collaborative – a treatment center with facilities spread throughout North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. She has over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, adults and families to address mental health concerns.
Wilkins said whether or not you partake in holiday celebrations this season, gratitude is an important practice to strengthen your mental health all year long.
“I really see that gratitude involves showing an appreciation for something or someone,” Wilkins said. “It’s changing the way that we think and it’s a focus on our ability to think about what is going well versus what is not going well.”
Wilkins said practicing mindfulness and focusing on the positives is the first step in changing the way we think to subsequently change the way we feel. She said there are many ways to practice gratitude, whether it be volunteering or keeping a gratitude journal.
“A lot of what we see right now in social media and in the news is that when something is perceived as negative occurs, people chalk it up to 2020,” Wilkins said. “I don’t see a lot of changing the way that we’re thinking. So, for somebody that is prone to feeling down, feeling depressed – especially around uncertainty – keeping a gratitude journal is a great start. It’s a way to focus on what is going well. It’s a way to focus on the small things and find appreciation for those things.”
Wilkins said isolation stemming from pandemic restrictions and changes in holiday traditions can create a perfect storm for individuals with anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, or other mental health issues. Gratitude can help these individuals have a more positive perspective.
Wilkins said practicing gratitude can mean looking for the silver linings in events that are perceived to be negative.
“When we think about the word silver linings, others might think as silver linings as opportunities,” Wilkins said. “It’s certainly a way to make lemonade out of lemons. It’s a way to thrive. It’s a way to count our blessings.”
In addition to practicing gratitude, Wilkins said self-care is so important for a person’s well-being. She said self-care could look like shutting your cellphone off for five minutes, setting boundaries with your family and making time for yourself.
Wilkins said practicing self-care and prioritizing personal needs is an important step for fostering good mental health during stressful times.
“We have to be a little selfish in order to take care of ourselves, especially for those of us who are in provider roles,” Wilkins said. “Before we can take care of someone else, we have to take care of ourselves. It’s that old airline analogy that you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you put it on someone else that really needs the assistance.”
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