Moving Forward & What We’ve Learned

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

The global pandemic has altered our lives in extraordinary ways. We’ve learned to adjust, as best we can, finding ways to stay connected and keep going during unprecedented circumstances. As we begin to move forward, we welcome opportunities to receive the vaccination and reconnect. We have the potential to re-engage with deepening awareness and cooperation. Together, respectfully sharing our gifts as we progress forward.  

Last week, while welcoming close to 1,200 community members immediately after receiving their first vaccination, I thought about how far we’ve come and still have to go. Looking into the eyes of our community, seeing hope, relief and sincere gratitude. With each vaccination, we are making progress, slowly and steadily. This is a monumental task and takes strategic daily planning from Skagit County Public Health to move our community forward in a healthy, safe manner. 

During this time of transition, it is vitally important to remember that we still need to be vigilant: wear our masks, socially distance, wash our hands and continue to support one another with kindness and consideration. This is not the time to let our guard down, but to remember what we’ve learned. 

Let us take a moment and acknowledge how far we have come since last year. What are the lessons we learned? What are the unexpected gifts we experienced? What will we take with us as we move forward? 

I asked the team of amazing vaccinators these questions; here are some of the responses: 

  • I’ve learned how important and preventative wearing masks are. We’ve had a drastic decrease in the flu this season because of this practice. We must continue to wear our masks, even after being fully vaccinated.” 
  • “Each time I administer a vaccine, I feel like I am injecting hope into each person.” 
  • “I’ve experienced people are more forgiving.” 
  • “This time has given me an opportunity to step up, show up and be fully present for the community.” 
  • “Fills me with hope.” 
  • “I’ve learned how to really look into someone’s eyes.” 
  • “Together, we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible.” 
  • “I’ve learned to slow down, be more patient and appreciate the moment.” 
  • “Grateful to be a part of the team of community all-stars! I will never forget this.” 
  • “Realized how important it is to take each day as a gift and opportunity to be kind.” 

As more community members become eligible to receive their vaccination, we must remember how important it is to be considerate and patient. We still have more miles to travel as we maneuver through this collective journey. Let’s not regress backwards.  

Remember to stay in touch with updated information from reliable sources. Check Skagit County’s website for vaccination availability and information related to COVID-19. For us to move forward, we need cooperation from our entire community, each of us doing our part. If you know of someone who is seeking their first vaccination and does not have a computer, Public Health has a hotline dedicated to scheduling first vaccinations. Call the COVID Vaccine Hotline at 360-416-1500, option 1 for English, 2 for Spanish.  

Each day, while overseeing the post-first dose “Observation Space” at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, I share important “public service announcements.” Most importantly, reminders from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends the following to slow the spread of COVID-19: 

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth to help protect yourself and others. 
  • Stay six feet apart from others who don’t live with you. 
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you. 
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available. 

Together, we will move forward, slowly and steadily.

Welcoming in a new norm, where we engage with healthy practices and consideration to support our entire community. Spring welcomes new growth and opportunities to embrace hope.   

“Apple Blossoms” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2017 

Get Familiar with the Family Resource Center!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you live in Skagit County and have young children, you most likely know about—and love—the Children’s Museum of Skagit County. Once snuggled in Cascade Mall, the museum now sits prominently at The Shops (a.k.a. the outlet mall) in Burlington.

It was truly a sad day for all Skagit families last year when the museum’s doors closed temporarily due to COVID-19. I can’t tell you how many times my toddler asked to go to the museum, only to be told that we couldn’t because of the virus.

But even though the doors have been closed to visitors, the staff at the Children’s Museum have been busier than ever! Through a partnership with the Children’s Council of Skagit County, Help Me Grow Washington, and Skagit County Public Health, the museum has been able to continue to serve our community in a new and innovative way.

What is the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center?

Opened in October 2020, the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center is the brainchild of the Children’s Council and was made possible through Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES Act) funding from Skagit County. Partners decided to house the center at the Children’s Museum because the museum was already an established, safe, and trusted community center for Skagit County families.

Though Skagit County has many resources for families, all too often community providers hear from people that they didn’t know that support was available at the time when they needed it. It is the goal of the Family Resource Center to make accessing help an easy process, so that families can quickly find what they need, when they need it, in the way that they need it.

Now, more than ever, parents and families need extra help. As our community faces this pandemic, we have witnessed the reality that many families are being left without a safety net, whether due to loss of income, loss of childcare, or the over-night shift to remote learning. Families are feeling stressed, anxious, and scared. Traditional supports (like extended family or neighbors) may also be less accessible because of state-mandated social distancing and concerns around disease transmission. 

Who can get assistance through the Center?

The Center is available to anyone who could benefit from a little extra help or connection. Even if a family isn’t struggling to afford basic needs, there are so many other types of supports and services available—if you are curious, just ask! The Center’s staff would love to hear from you!

When you contact the Center, staff will use a screening form to determine need. From your call, online form, or email, staff can prepare a package to meet your specific needs.

What kinds of assistance are available through the Center?

The Family Resource Center is providing reliable local information, referrals to services, and application assistance for public programs. The Center is also distributing emergency basic needs items to families who demonstrate a COVID-related financial need.

Whether parents are looking for connections with other parents, opportunities for fun and educational activities for their family, information about their child’s development, or help applying for services, Help Me Grow staff will be able to help in many ways. Here are some examples:

  • Basic Needs assistance: help with things like food, shelter, utilities, diapers
  • Pregnancy & Breastfeeding Support: maternity support services, new parent groups, and the support through the Welcome Baby program
  • Childcare/Early Learning: find options for childcare, preschool, play-and-learn groups, library story times, Kindergarten registration, and more
  • Family Fun: activities and events
  • Family Support: parent coaches, support groups, warm lines, and home visiting programs
  • Health and wellness: free/low-cost health care, dental care, family planning, mental health services and supports, and recovery services
  • Special needs: services and supports for families of children with health and developmental concerns

The Center is also providing activity kits and books to families to promote early learning and to help occupy young children in positive ways for short periods if their parents are struggling to care for their children while working from home, or assisting older children with virtual education. Each family receives a care package filled with items like hand sanitizer, cloth face masks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, bubbles, resource lists and information, tissues, Vroom parenting tips and prompts.

How can I connect with the Center?

TheFamily Resource Center is not a drop-in center, however staff will work with you if special arrangements are needed. There are several ways to get in contact with the Center, including by phone, text, email, and by submitting an online form. At present, assistance is available in English, Spanish, and Mixteco. See below for contact options:

Scheduled pickups are COVID-friendly. Plan for curb-side pickup at the Children’s Museum: 432 Fashion Way, Burlington, WA 98233.

Will the Center eventually close when COVID isn’t as prevalent?  

The Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center and partners are busily making plans for the future. Once the museum reopens in the coming weeks, the Family Resource Center will continue to operate out of the museum, and assistance will continue to be provided through curb-side pickup. Onsite programs, such as Kaleidoscope Play & Learn groups, the Parent Café weekly groups, and parenting classes will also resume at the museum.

Are there plans to reopen the museum soon?

Wait—did I just read that the museum will reopen soon?! Yes, you read correctly!

The Children’s Museum of Skagit County is excited to reopen on Wednesday, June 2nd! Museum staff are working tirelessly behind the scenes to prepare the facility and exhibits. The plan is to operate at reduced capacity (according to the WA State guidelines) with time ticketing and following all state mandates. At this time, staff are also planning for Summer Camps to take place this year. For updates about reopening, visit the Children’s Museum website here.

To learn more about the Help Me Grow – Family Resource Center, visit the Help Me Grow Skagit website. If you have questions about the program, or need additional information, call Skagit County Public Health at (360) 416-1500.


Needles? No Problem! Coping with your COVID-19 Vaccine

Reading Time: 3 minutes

People react to needles in all sorts of ways: some people are fascinated by them, other people have a mild dislike for them, and many people flat out cannot stand them. Whatever camp you fall into, you most likely already know how important vaccinations are.

And when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, its importance cannot be overstated. A COVID-19 vaccination will help keep you from getting COVID-19—protecting you from severe illness and even death—and may also protect the people around you, particularly people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine is one of the best tools that we have against ending the pandemic and gradually returning to some type of “normal.”

Still, this may not make lifting your sleeve any easier. Deciding to make an appointment—and actually following through—may seem like an insurmountable feat for someone with an intense fear of needles. After all, a fear of needles (known as trypanophobia) is said to impact about 25 percent of adults in the U.S., and can cause increased heart rate, fainting, and even full-blown panic attacks.

If you are one of those individuals who struggles with vaccinations, here are some tips to prepare yourself for the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. Talk to your doctor

Getting a shot can be anxiety inducing, even when it is something as common as an annual flu shot. With the COVID-19 vaccine, there is a lot of fearmongering and politicization that may be heightening your anxiety. For this reason, you may want to talk with your primary care doctor about the vaccine to dispel any rumors that you’ve heard.

Your doctor will be able to explain the differences between the available vaccine brands, can discuss possible short-term side effects, and can also address any medical concerns that may need to be addressed prior to vaccination.

If you really struggle with vaccinations, talk to your doctor about which local vaccine provider location will be best suited to your needs.

2. Book the appointment

Worrying about making an appointment will not make the process any easier, and it won’t do anything positive for your mental health. When you’ve talked with your doctor, gotten the information you need, and feel ready to take the step forward…do it! Then celebrate your bravery!

3. Familiarize yourself with the site

Sometimes when you feel anxious about a new experience, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the place or process. If you have questions about a specific vaccine provider location, visit their website and read about what you should expect when you arrive for your appointment.

If you are making an appointment with Skagit County Public Health at the Skagit County Fairgrounds, reading our blog post may help to calm your nerves: https://skagitcounty.blog/2021/01/21/covid-19-vaccine-clinic-step-by-step/.  You can also access our website by visiting www.skagitcounty.net/COVIDvaccine or call our Hotline at (360) 416-1500.

4. Take Your Time & Talk to our Nurses

When you arrive to your appointment, make sure to give yourself some time. Try to arrive a few minutes early so you aren’t rushing through traffic and be sure to eat a bit before you come.

If you have questions or concerns, be sure to talk with the nurse. Letting them know that you are nervous about receiving a vaccine is totally okay! Trust us, it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve heard this!

Your nurse will most likely offer some advice on how to deal with getting your shot and will provide you with some information that you will need post-vaccine (such as what to do for pain management if you have a sore arm). If you have questions, ask! We are here for you.

5. Use Your Coping Skills

If you know from experience that you will be feeling particularly anxious during your vaccine appointment, make sure to have some coping skills at your disposal. Here are some examples:

Deep Breathing

Slow, deep, and calming breaths can help you avoid panic. There are many different breathing techniques that you can call upon. It is important to find the ones that work for you.

Box Breathing is an exercise where you breathe in for four seconds, hold for four, breathe out for four, hold for another four and repeat. It can help to imagine your breath creating an imaginary box in the air.

Another technique is Pursed Lip Breathing. To practice it, you breathe in through your nose and breathe out at least twice as long through your mouth with pursed lips.

Focus Shifting & Distractions

Distracting yourself may not help you get over your fear of needles, but it can help you cope in the moment. Need some ways to shift your focus or distract yourself? Here are some tricks:

  • Talk to someone about something random—the weather, sports, a TV show. Whatever!
  • Count backwards from 50 or try to say the alphabet backwards.
  • Think about fun plans that you have or what you would like to do on the weekend.
  • Look around and find three things you hadn’t noticed before.

Positive Affirmations

As you are waiting to receive your shot, be thinking about some positive affirmations. Remember that you have gotten vaccinations before and have been fine. That you’ve overcome difficult things. That you are not in danger, though your body or brain may be causing you to think so. You are okay, you are brave. You are making a difference in your community!

For more helpful tips and resources: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/821-133-BehavioralHealthTipsGettingTheVaccine.pdf


Restorative Practices to Heal Brain Fog

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing author

We have weathered this year, experiencing a “new norm.” Every aspect of our lives touched by a global virus, sending us home, keeping us separated and challenging our mental, physical and emotional endurance. It takes energy to keep going under stressful circumstances. If you are feeling exhausted, you are not alone: Pandemic fatigue is real. 

Last week, I forgot what day it was (a few times), my normal patience was running low, and exhaustion was taking hold. Friday, while getting ready for work, on a morning show I heard the term, “brain fog.” This referred to what some people, whether they have had COVID-19 or not, are experiencing after a year living this unusual “new norm.” Hearing the term gave me an odd sense of relief and a name to the mental exhaustion I had been feeling.  

For the past twelve months, we have been running a metaphorical race, restructuring our lives and trying to do the best we can, under extreme circumstances. Our collective exhaustion is understandable. It’s important to remember, take time to pause, breathe deeply and gift ourselves moments of rest. 

While experiencing the fatigue of the pandemic and foggy brains, it is important to be gentle with ourselves and those around us. Remembering the importance of selfcare, setting aside moments for ourselves is not being selfish, rather it is restorative. Not only for us, but for our families, too. The pandemic has taken an exhausting toll on our community from the young to our elders. Supporting one another with loving-kindness can make a huge difference in our collective movement forward.  

Over the weekend, I took time to rest and recharge. Thoughts traveled back to last spring. Remembering the unusual stillness, some days hardly a car drove past my window. It was so quiet. I could feel the earth reawakening, catching its breath without the busyness of all our coming and goings. Now as before the pandemic, I am continually grateful for time tending the garden, watching the hummingbirds zip among the blossoms and listening intently with all my senses to the unfolding of each season. Restorative time spent outside. 

These days, it is vitally important to create ways to recharge our inner beings. Refuel our endurance so we can show up with clarity and presence for our families, friends and community. 

Talking with some coworkers at the Skagit County Public Health vaccination site, each expressed experiencing some form of pandemic fatigue or brain fog over these past many months. I asked, “What is your favorite restorative practice?” 

Here are their responses:

“I head to the mountains.” 

“Every week I buy myself fresh flowers. Along with photography, it’s relaxing and creative.” 

“Play with my dog.” 

“I make sure I practice yoga every day.” 

“Call a friend, meet up for a glass of wine and walk outside.” 

“Crafting, that’s my jam!” 

“Put my phone away and unplug.” 

“Take a nap.” 

“Meditate.” 

“Listen to music.” 

“Sit quietly and watch the clouds.” 

“Gardening, tending the plants and soil, recharges me.” 

“Take a ride to the beach, spend time by the water, listen to the waves.” 

Whatever works, I hope these restorative practices can inspire you to creatively move through moments of fatigue and fogginess. Continue nurturing endurance for the days and months ahead as we move forward with deepening kindness, compassion and joy. 

Welcome Spring! 

“Daffodils” 
©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert, 2021

Overdose Prevention & You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Bob Lutz, Washington State medical advisor for COVID-19 response, states that “Washingtonians with substance use disorders may have found themselves using more frequently [during the COVID-19 pandemic], and unfortunately, the data suggests they are also overdosing more often.Alarmingly, Skagit County has also observed an increase in opioid-related overdoses. Keep reading for preliminary, 2020 State- and County-level overdose data.

But first, a quick terminology refresher!

Overdose happens when a toxic amount of a drug, or combination of drugs, overwhelms the body. People can overdose on lots of things including alcohol, Tylenol, opioids or a mixture of drugs. When an opioid overdose occurs, the overdosing individual may experience slow or no breath, choking or snore-like sounds, pinpoint pupils, blue/ashy skin, nails and lips, unconsciousness and/or death. Fortunately, there are harm reduction practices and prevention interventions that can significantly reduce one’s chances of overdose and death. Visit SkagitRising to learn more.

Fentanyl is a synthetic or “man-made” opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than other opioids like morphine and heroin. There are pharmaceutical forms of fentanyl that are used for anesthesia and pain. However, most recent cases of fentanyl-related overdose and death have been linked to illegally made fentanyl. Any illicit drug in any form – powder, pill, etc. – could have fentanyl in it. You can’t necessarily tell if fentanyl is present based on taste, smell, or look of the drug. According to the DOH, we should assume that any drug not from a pharmacy could have fentanyl in it.

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING:

In Washington, fentanyl has been found in counterfeit pills made to look like prescription opioids (often with an imprint of “M30” or “A215”), as well as in powders and black tar heroin.

Opioid Overdose Data

Last month, the Washington State Department of Health published a News Release, which includes preliminary overdose data for the first six months of 2020.

Here is a Brief Snapshot:

  • Overdose deaths in Washington State increased by 38% in the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019. Most of this increase came from deaths involving fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl-involved deaths more than doubled from 137 to 309.
  • Most deaths involved multiple substances, sometimes called polysubstance use.

Skagit County also observed an increase in opioid-related deaths when compared to 2019. While Public Health and many other community partners have been working diligently to reduce the impacts of opioid misuse and overdose in our communities (see list of collaborative efforts here: https://skagitrising.org/what-is-being-done/), we need your help!

How YOU Can Help

We all play an important role in reducing opioid overdoses and saving lives in our communities.

  • The COVID19 pandemic has affected us all. Stress and social isolation may increase risk of substance misuse and overdose. Offer support to friends and family – send a text, call, video chat, get together in one-on-one or in a small group outside.
  • Know the signs of an opioid overdose and how to help.
  • Naloxone (also called Narcan®) is a safe medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. If you use opioids or know someone who does, make sure to carry naloxone. You could save a life! Under the statewide standing order, anyone can get naloxone at a pharmacy without a prescription.
  • If you think someone is overdosing don’t hesitate to call 911. The Good Samaritan Law (RCW 69.50.315) protects you and the person overdosing from prosecution of drug consumption and drug possession.
  • Help those struggling with opioid use disorder find the right care and treatment. Buprenorphine and methadone, two medications used to treat opioid use disorder (MOUD), can cut the risk of a fatal opioid overdose in half, and support long-term recovery. Find local MOUD treatment programs by visiting https://skagitrising.org/  
  • If you use drugs, please practice harm reduction techniques. If you must use alone, call 800-484-3731 (Never Use Alone Hotline).

Additional Info

Feeling overwhelmed and/or don’t know where to start? You are not alone. Visit the WA Recovery Helpline (or call 1-866-789-1511) where they provide emotional support and connect callers with local treatment resources and community services. You can also learn about local resources by visiting https://skagitrising.org/resources/

If you have questions, want to learn more about behavioral health services in Skagit County, or would like to pick-up free naloxone or fentanyl test strips, contact McKinzie Gales, Community Health Education Specialist at mgales@co.skagit.wa.us or (360)416-1528.


Heartful Care

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, Contributing Author 

“Beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally,  
we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.” 

-Dr. Maya Angelou 

As communities across the globe face ongoing challenges of the pandemic and need for vaccinations, we know each of us is affected. Dr. Angelou’s quote, reflects, no matter what our differences, underneath, we all have hearts. Hearts that are vital and keep us moving forward during these unprecedented times. 

Both our physical and emotional hearts need care—especially now, as we are almost a year into this time of drastic change and adjustments. It is important to maintain good heart care, as best we can. Making sure to reach out to our family, friends or professionals, if we experience any physical or emotional concerns or challenges; remembering we are not alone.  

A few months before the pandemic, I participated in a spiritual activism class. One of the exercises was a meditation on our hearts. We were asked to sit quietly and place our hands on our hearts. Breathe in and out at our own pace, and focus in on giving thanks to our hearts. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of thanking my heart for keeping me alive, blood pumping and all the emotions it holds. It was a moving experience and a good place to start for heartful care and appreciation.

Here are some heartful care suggestions: 

  • Hold our hearts and say, “Thank you!” 
  • Be gentle with ourselves. 
  • Remember to take a few focused intentional breaths. 
  • Get outside as much as we can. 
  • Connect with the earth. 
  • Move our bodies: dance, yoga, hiking, biking, whatever makes us feel good. 
  • Notice the beauty. 
  • Reach out, if feeling isolated. 
  • Check in on family, friends or neighbors. 
  • Continue with regular health check-ups. 
  • Eat some dark chocolate (professionals say it’s good for the heart!). 
  • Keep wearing our masks, good for everyone’s health! 
  • Look into someone’s eyes. 
  • Smile from our hearts. 
  • Drink plenty of water, stay hydrated. 
  • Keep it simple! 

Let’s take care of our health in all ways, so we can show up wholeheartedly for our loved ones, friends and community.  

“Heartful of Seeds,” ©Rosemary DeLucco Alpert 2021 

Eyes of Hope

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Rosemary Alpert, contributing writer. 

Over the past ten months, we have been wearing our masks, washing our hands more than we ever thought we would, strategically getting our groceries, keeping our distance and so much more. A collective community effort to keep ourselves, families and friends healthy.  

Since June, I’ve been looking into thousands of community members’ eyes through car windows while registering them to get tested for COVID-19. First, at Skagit Valley College and now Skagit County Fairgrounds (south entrance, F Barn). Each person has a story for why they are getting tested. Eyes filled with worry, fear, anxiety and deep concern, not only for themselves but for their families too.  

So many eyes. 

Last Thursday, Skagit County Public Health and its community partners worked tirelessly to get our first 1a-eligible COVID-19 vaccine clinic started. The County is working directly with 1a-eligible employers to identify individuals to be vaccinated. Eligible community members were invited and scheduled for a specific time last Thursday and Friday, to receive their first vaccination for the COVID-19 virus.  

From registration to vaccination; a moment in time that I will remember for all of my days. 

I’ve been asked to greet each person immediately after they receive their vaccine: instructing them to sit for 15 minutes post-vaccine, to be observed and make sure that they do not have any reactions. After I shared with a friend and coworker from Skagit Valley Family YMCA about how powerful it is to be a part of this historical time for our County, she said, “You’ve come full circle, starting off being the first person people see when getting tested for the virus, to being the first person they see once they receive the vaccine.” 

Full circle—filled with deep listening, loving-kindness and compassion. 

What profoundly struck me last week, quite unexpectedly, was everyone’s eyes. Each pair of eyes, filled with a sense of relief and gratitude; some glistening with tears, and most of all, eyes filled with HOPE. 

Just as each person has a reason for why they get tested, the relief and appreciation for receiving the vaccine are also deeply meaningful. Some of the responses I heard were: 

“I can’t wait to see my granddaughter.”  

“I have no words. Just so grateful.”  

“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  

“This gives me so much hope.” 

#OurShotSkagit. Photo taken by Julie de Losada of Rosemary Alpert receiving her first COVID-19 vaccine dose.

Looking into eyes of our community, filled with hope and movement forward. Slow and steady progress.

For a first-hand account, as a frontline worker, I was invited to receive the vaccine. Last Friday afternoon, I received my first shot. After working months, looking into the eyes of our community, I was filled with emotions and gratitude, feeling the light of hope. 

My first thought was my two adult children, who I haven’t been able to see in over a year. My eyes glistened with tears of relief. The only reaction I felt was a sore arm, and the next day, a little tired. I also woke up at 3:38 a.m. the next morning and could feel the vaccine working. It was a wonderful feeling! I visualized the vaccine as golden-healing liquid responding and strengthening my being, heart and eyes full of hope. 

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please check out Skagit County Public Health’s website at www.skagitounty.net/COVIDvaccine. You can also read our press release with WA DOH’s latest guidance here: https://www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/Home/press/010721.htm.


What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Making big plans and setting high expectations for the months to come can seem too burdensome for some—and that’s totally fine! The beginning of a new year does present a good opportunity to reflect on the prior year, though. An opportunity to think about the things that we’d like to work on or change.

This past year was definitely a doozy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of our routines were uprooted or thrown out the window entirely. While, before last March, it might not have been acceptable to take a meeting in sweats, or to shower in the middle of the workday, we’ve adapted and made concessions out of pure necessity.

Perhaps, for some, one of these concessions has been around drinking habits. While it was once acceptable to have an occasional glass of wine over dinner or a few cocktails on the weekend, now a quaran-tini (or two) each night has become the standard.

While it’s perfectly fine to have a drink here and there, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits. When does drinking become “too much,” and when do rates of consumption go from healthy to possibly dangerous?

Isolation, the disruption of routine, and an inability to use pre-COVID coping mechanisms can cause one to feel especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Partnered with other stressors like economic uncertainty or unemployment, an individual may be at increased risk of developing a reliance on alcohol or other substances in order to cope.

What is binge drinking?

Not everyone who drinks—even regularly—engages in binge drinking. Even still, the definition of “binge drinking” may surprise you.

Moderate drinking, for men, is drinking no more than 15 drinks per week and no binge drinking. For women, the limit is seven drinks per week, with no binge drinking.

Binge drinking, however, is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in that same two-hour period for women.

Note: Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, meaning they have higher concentrations of it in their blood when they drink the same amount.

The CDC states that one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge, with the highest percentage of binge drinking happening amongst 25-34 year olds. A person who binge drinks may or may not have an alcohol use disorder.

Recent Findings

A recent study published in the American Journal of Alcohol & Drugs Abuse reported that “thirty-four percent [of those studied] reported binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It was also found that more binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). And for every one-week increase in time spent at home during the pandemic, there were greater odds of binge drinking.

Also of note was that binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression.

Why can it be dangerous?

Binge drinking is associated with many short- and long-term health problems. Short-term side effects include:

  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Hangover
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory loss

From the American Addiction Centers, some long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include: alcoholism, brain damage, liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

Keep track. Whether you can keep track in your mind, or you need something in writing to help you monitor throughout the week, it may be a good idea to have a system in place. Did you have a few drinks over the weekend? Maybe take a break for a few days this week. Even taking a couple days off from alcohol can help your physical (and even mental) wellbeing!

Count and measure. Being your own bartender at home can surely be cost efficient, but it can also pose a challenge for proper measuring! According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Keep these measurements in mind when pouring (and counting) drinks.

Set goals. Along these same lines, try setting some goals for yourself over the coming weeks. Maybe it isn’t realistic right now to cut out alcohol together. How about cutting out a drink here and there to start, and work your way into a healthier routine? Don’t get discouraged if you lapse or if you have to start over. Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult—but also entirely doable! Maybe set a goal with a friend or loved one so that you can work toward a common goal together, while also keeping one another accountable.

Find alternatives. If having a drink at 5 o’clock has become the norm recently, try replacing this habit with something else. Try taking a walk during this time, or taking a hot bath. If having a drink makes you feel calm, find something that provides a similar sensation. If you feel like a drink is a nice way to treat yourself after a long day, find something else that feels like a little reward. Just be sure not to replace one unhealthy habit with another!

Avoid “triggers.” A trigger can be anything that causes you to want to drink. This could be something stressful like watching the nightly news or scrolling social media. However, it can be something pleasurable like cooking a meal or video-chatting with a friend. It is important to recognize what your triggers are in order to plan for and work through it.

Remember non-alcoholic drinks. For some people, just having alcohol in the house can pose a difficulty in regulating consumption. If this is the case, move the alcohol out of the refrigerator, or avoid having it in the home altogether. Try having something in the fridge that you can go to instead when you’re craving a drink. Carbonated water (which comes in a variety of flavors) can be a nice go-to, or even diet soda.

Need more help?

Need a little extra help? That’s okay! The Washington Recovery Helpline is a great resource available to all Washingtonians who may be struggling with substance use. Call 1-866-789-1511 to speak with a specialist (available 24/7/365). You can also text this same number during Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for treatment options, resources, and referrals.

You can also access www.skagithelps.org for a list of helpful resources.


Keep It Simple: Self-Care in the New Year

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Article and image contributed by Rosemary Alpert.

The calendar has turned,
a new year’s begun,
here we go 2021!

Stepping into this new year with hope and resilience, slow and steady movement forward, one day at a time. No resolutions, rather, deciding to keep it simple, focusing on daily self-care and compassion.

At least three times a week, I call a dear friend who turned 99 years old last October. She lives in an assisted living facility in Connecticut. Our conversations are brief and meaningful, for both of us. Almost guaranteed, with each call, especially during challenging days of separation and isolation, my friend, Sylvia, shares two pieces of advice: “Put your oxygen mask on first,” and, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” Daily wisdom from an almost centenarian.

The simplicity of this advice resonates within. “Put your oxygen mask on first,” does not mean being selfish, quite the opposite. Rather, it is true self-care. Being full of care for ourselves is vitally important, especially these days. What works for you?

Keep it Simple. Besides making sure to get enough rest, drink plenty of water, wash our hands, and wear our masks, here are a few keep-it-simple self-care thoughts: Let’s notice our breath; be gentle with ourselves; learn our limits; be our best advocate; ask and reach out; express daily gratitude; get outside; however it may be, take super-duper care! Then, we can show up for one another, with more presence and awareness.

Each day, we are gifted 86,400 seconds, a fresh start. Over these many months, when my mind started to turn into a hamster wheel, spinning out of control, I would stop whatever I was doing. Pause, focus, take a few breaths, remember what my friend Sylvia would say, “You’re dealt a hand, play it out the best you can.” One of my daily practices has become starting fresh with each new day. As with any practice, it is an ongoing learning experience. Some days, it’s not so easy. What this advice has offered is a way to appreciate, notice, and celebrate the littlest of moments within the progress of each day. Our accumulation of seconds count!

While working at the COVID-19 testing site, I asked a few coworkers how they keep it simple with self-care. Here are some of their responses…

  • Relax in bed, all propped up with a bunch of pillows, surround myself with snacks and watch Hallmark movies
  • Take a long hot bath
  • Search for painted rocks on hikes with my son
  • Call a friend
  • Long walks by the river
  • Learned how to quilt
  • Walk my dog
  • Quiet meditation
  • Spend time reading and journaling
  • Go for hikes
  • Spend time gardening, getting my hands in the dirt, connecting to the earth
  • Listen to calming music
  • Make dinner with my partner, then watch a funny movie.

Simple pleasures nourish the soul, keep us in the present, and keep us moving forward. Remember my dear friend Sylvia’s advice: Don’t forget to “put your oxygen mask on first,” and each day, do the best you can with your 86,400 seconds.

Happy New Year!!!


Safe & Fun Holiday Ideas

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The holidays are all about tradition. Whether they are things that you’ve done since childhood, or new activities that have been developed over the years, these traditions are what we look forward to each holiday season.

No matter what the tradition is though, it is typically centered around what we do with our family, friends, and loved ones during the holidays. It is no surprise then that this year is especially difficult for most of us.

This year, the guidance is very clear. Continue to practice the same safety measures that we’ve been doing all year long: physically distance, stay home, limit gatherings, wear a mask, and wash our hands. We do these things to decrease the spread of COVID-19, and by doing them, we protect not only ourselves, but our community.

So how do we look forward to holiday traditions when there has been nothing traditional about this year? Well, it is all in the way that we frame things!

This year could be the worst ever for holidays—or—it could be the perfect opportunity to create some new customs for yourself and your family! Think of these 2020 traditions as something that you can incorporate into your yearly festivities, instead of just being a one off.

So where do you even start with building new traditions? We asked the staff here at Skagit County Public Health for some safe and fun holiday ideas that their own families are participating in this year.

These are a few of their responses.

  • “Instead of sharing meals with extended family from different households, we will take turns dropping off meals that we have prepared at each other’s houses. We share the love and the food but not the risk, as we won’t be gathering and eating together inside except with people that we live with.”
  • “We have a family tradition of getting coffee/cocoa and driving around as a family looking at Christmas lights around the county.”
  • “I made individually wrapped holiday treats for all of my neighbors and delivered them to their doorsteps.”
  • “We are making cookies every day between December 12th and the 24th. Twelve different cookies! We plan to plate and wrap them for porch delivery to our nearby friends and family on Christmas Eve.”
  • “Ordinarily we would spend Christmas morning at my sister- and brother-in-law’s place then head to Bellevue to have a massive feast with aunt, uncle, cousins, lots of extended family.  After dinner we walk around the neighborhood to see the lights before driving north to home.  However, this year like Thanksgiving, we are spending Christmas and New Years by ourselves. We make ourselves a special dinner with all the side dishes we like rather than those that we are obligated to make.  My sister and mom live in other states so the three of us have a Zoom chat in the morning.” 
  • “This year, we made salt dough ornaments with our kids. We even made a few hand-print ornaments that we painted and mailed to my parents in Canada. Even though we can’t be with them this year, they will have a little piece of us on their tree.”

Still looking for ideas? Washington DOH has a list on its website that includes:

Giving thanks: In a year filled with challenges, it can feel good to pause and consider the things for which we are grateful, whether that be a person, pet, place or thing. Highlight these bright spots by writing them down or sending notes, texts or emails to people in your life to express why you are grateful for them.

On-screen get togethers: Sure, it won’t be quite the same, but scheduling a few virtual holiday gatherings can take the sting out of being separated. Getting together online to cook, open gifts, decorate desserts, do a craft project, listen to a playlist, or read stories can create a bit of the togetherness we crave. Consider time zones when scheduling, and make sure that any people who are not tech-savvy get help beforehand so they can be included.

Secret gift exchange: Assign each family or friend a name, and ask them mail or do a no-contact delivery of a small gift they make or buy to their assigned person. Open gifts on a group video chat and try to guess who gave what to whom.

Play dress-up: If you have a willing crowd, create a theme for your virtual party. Themed masks, silly hats or ugly sweaters can give everyone something to laugh and talk about.

Remote potluck: Rather than getting together, you can assign dishes to friends and family and deliver them to one another’s homes. Or deliver just the ingredients for a dish or meal. Then, log in to your favorite video chat app to cook or dig in.

Learn a recipe together: Pick a favorite family recipe, share an ingredient list ahead of time with friends or family, and then get together virtually to try cooking or baking. Good times are guaranteed, whether you end up with delicious dumplings or poorly decorated cookies.

Game night: If you thrive on competition, make your virtual gatherings about more than just conversation. Trivia, charades, and even board games, can all work great online. Or try out a virtual bake-off, talent show or a scavenger hunt where teams race to find common and not-so-common items around their house. This is also a fun one to set up for kids so they can connect virtually with friends.

Make a list of some healthy things that you can do this season that will bring a smile to your face. Are your yearly traditions centered around family and friends? How can you adjust these traditions so that you still feel the connection you crave while also being safe and practicing physical distancing.

Yes, this holiday season will be different from previous years. It is normal to feel sad or frustrated about these changes, especially when we have made so many sacrifices since March. It is important to confront these feelings that you may have and work through them instead of burying them away. And remember: this pandemic won’t last forever. Making sacrifices now will mean bigger and better holidays to come.  

If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.

In a crisis?

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Connections: 866-4-CRISIS (866-427-4747)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Crisis Connections helps people in physical, emotional, and financial crisis get services they need through their 24-Hour Crisis Line, Teen Link, WA Recovery Help Line, and WA Warm Line.