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

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.


Finding a Hobby as an Adult

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A few weekends ago, I decided that I was going to try my hand at sewing dresses for my two girls. After watching a few YouTube videos and drinking too much coffee, I thought to myself: “Yeah, I can totally do this. I borrowed my step-mom’s sewing machine and set off for our local fabric store.

Once there, I immediately felt overwhelmed. But I kept going! I ended up buying way too much fabric and some overpriced fabric scissors, decided I didn’t need a pattern (yes, really), and went merrily on my way.

I am happy to report that after a bit of trial and error, I actually created some really cute pieces! Though I wouldn’t advise anyone to look too closely at the stitching, I’d consider this new adventure in sewing a grand success.

What I realized is: (1) It feels good to try something new; (2) It also feels good to be challenged; and (3) I needed a new hobby more than I’d realized.

Like many out there, I have come to rely too heavily on a COVID-19 routine of binge watching and social media scrolling during my down time. Even though I don’t have a lot of down time to speak of with two young children, I will waste it all on unproductive—and sometimes mentally draining—habits.

So, let’s talk about the importance of finding hobbies during this time.

Why are hobbies particularly important right now?

De-stress: Research has shown that having a hobby can help you cope with stress and anxiety. Doing something you love can actually improve your mental and physical health, making you more resilient during difficult times.

Take focus off of the negative: When you are busy doing a hobby, you have less time to focus on the negative. For example: having too much down time without focus can lead to doom-scrolling on social media, which can negatively affect your mood.

Give motivation or meaning: Finding something you love and that brings you joy can give you a sense of purpose in life. During times like these, when routines have been uprooted, it is important to redefine what meaning can look like.

Sense of accomplishment/sense of control: COVID-19 has challenged many people’s feelings about what they have control over in life. And this can feel really unsettling. When you may feel like there is nothing you can do right, or nothing you can control, a hobby can be a really helpful thing to put your energy into.

Create connection: Many times, we can find connection to others through our hobbies. While it may not be physical connection right now, having a shared hobby with someone can be a really powerful thing, and can strengthen your relationships.

How do I find a new hobby?

  1. Something you’ve always wanted to do: Start by asking yourself this: “If I won the lottery tomorrow and never needed to work again, what would I do?” There will probably be some clues based on your answer. And even if the answer is “nothing,” try to dig a little deeper.
  2. Look to your childhood: Remember back to when you were a child. What were some things that you loved to do? Did you like dancing, playing the recorder, or building Legos? What about swimming or writing short stories? All of these things can be turned into an adult hobby.
  3. Shop around: If you can’t think of anything right off the bat, try a handful of activities. Keep trying hobbies on for size until one fits! Walk around a craft or outdoor sports store until something piques your interest. Just keep in mind that shopping around can be a costly exercise, so try something out before investing too much money. There is nothing worse than buying a drum set, just to find out that you lack rhythm (true story).
  4. Take a class: Right now is the best time to try something because there are so many virtual options! Cooking lessons, yoga classes, and painting courses can all be found online—and many times, for free! Find some links to classes here
  5. Find something useful: It is always a major bonus when you can find a hobby that serves multiple purposes. In my case, I can save a bit of money by making clothing at home, while also challenging myself and having some fun. If I get good enough, I could even begin gifting my creations to family and friends!
  6. FUN!: This is the most important part; a hobby needs to make you happy. Don’t take it—or yourself—too seriously. Just give something new a try, and try not to overthink it.

How to incorporate a hobby into your schedule

  • Evaluate your use of free time: If you are thinking, “I have no time for a hobby,” then I urge you to reevaluate your down-time. I was guilty of thinking this, too, but then realized that I think nothing of wasting an hour or two per night scrolling through my phone or sitting on the couch. Finding a hobby that you want to do will help to break these habits.
  • Schedule time: You don’t need to make time for your hobby every day, or even every week. But when you are feeling extra stressed or down, make sure to use your hobby as a go-to coping strategy, and find some time for it. Consider it an essential part of your self-care routine.

Helpful Tools

There are some interesting tools online that you can use to find a new hobby. DiscoveraHobby.com is especially helpful, and has activities broken up into categories.

Feeling daring? Take an online quiz to help guide you to the hobby that you should try next. I got Computer Programming though, so maybe take this quiz with a grain of salt!



7 Steps for Combating Seasonal Depression

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have always looked forward to the colder months. For me, shorter days and chilly temperatures mean cozy sweaters, snuggling under blankets, and fuzzy socks. It had never truly occurred to me that seasonal depression was a real thing until I met my husband. He—unlike myself—is genuinely impacted by the winter months, and struggles each year when the weather starts to turn.

And he is not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression, affects about five percent of adults in the United States. It is more common among women than men, and has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. Though rare, SAD can also affect children, sometimes causing fussiness, clinginess, and emotional reactivity, or disinterest, sleepiness, and poor memory.

Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, even with too much sleep, and weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings. SAD symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include many symptoms similar to major depression, such as:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite; usually eating more, craving carbohydrates
  • Change in sleep; usually sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Some experts have warned that individuals will be particularly hard-hit this year due to the culminating effects of seasonal depression and COVID-related mental, emotional, physical, and economic challenges.

While it is important to acknowledge that this winter may be tougher than usual, it doesn’t mean that things are hopeless. There are many preventative steps that we can take to combat seasonal depression—and you can start right now!

1. Make a Plan

If you know that you are affected by seasonal depression, now is the time to start planning. And for those who might not typically be impacted but may be struggling this year, some planning might also be in your best interest.

Make a list of warning signs and symptoms—indicators of when your mental health may be declining. Then, make a note of all of your coping strategies—the things that have helped you feel better in the past. This exercise will help you create a game plan for if/when things begin to feel too hard.

2. Think Positively

There are many known health benefits to thinking positively, though it is unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits. One theory is that having a positive outlook enables you to cope better with stressful situations, which reduces the harmful health effects of stress on your body.

Thinking positively begins with positive self-talk: the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head. These thoughts can be either positive or negative. Each day, you can make the conscious decision to speak to yourself with kindness, or not. Practice showing yourself a little grace each day.

3. Make Health a Priority

Set and maintain a daily routine, eat healthy foods, and get regular exercise.

Recent studies have shown that people who eat whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean red meats, and other healthy foods, showed a significant improvement in depressive symptoms.

Regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Getting more sunlight may help too, so try to get outside to exercise when the sun is shining. Being active during the daytime, especially early in the day, may help you have more energy and feel less depressed.

4. Keep Things Light

Light therapy has been a mainstay for the treatment of SAD for decades. It aims to expose people with SAD to a bright light every day to make up for the diminished natural sunshine in the darker months.

If this isn’t an option, just getting outdoors can be the first step toward a healthier mindset, even in the PNW. When walking outside, try keeping an upward gaze instead of looking at the ground, and practice deep breathing. If you’re able, try to get your heart rate up several times a week.

5. Stay Social

Despite the logistical challenges this year, it’s important to maintain connections with family and friends. While you may have to get a bit creative, there are many ways to connect with people this winter, even if it isn’t necessarily face-to-face.

It can be tempting to close yourself off, especially when struggling with depression. In planning for the winter, ask a friend or family member to be your winter-blues buddy, and keep each other accountable.

6. Keep Growing in Yourself

I know, I know … many of us have tried new things since the beginning of COVID-19. But now isn’t the time to get complacent! Try a new hobby, get involved, and throw yourself into something new. Find the thing that will carry you through the darker days, and do it wholeheartedly. And if possible, find something that you can do with a family member or friend.

7. Find Help

If you’ve tried multiple ways to make yourself feel better and aren’t noticing any improvements in your mood—or are noticing that it’s getting worse—it might be time to seek professional help. Getting help is not a sign of weakness; it is proof that you take your mental health seriously.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

The Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.


Take Time to Invest in You

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest post by Kari Pendray at Brigid Collins Family Support Center

As we find ourselves well into our sixth month of living with Covid-19, many parents have one thing in common – we are all juggling multiple demands in a time that leaves us feeling more uncertain. The idea of being at home for some is isolating and for others it feels more like a safe haven. No matter which side of the aisle you are on, the role of a parent has suddenly become more demanding. That’s because stressful events, like being in the midst of a global pandemic, adds a layer of unpredictability in our lives.

Whether you are feeling stressed out, burned out, or just plain tired, you are not alone. Stress is sometimes defined as when the need to respond exceeds our capacity to respond. How can you recognize stress and burnout? Stress comes in three forms. Acute stress is healthy stress, like when you have a deadline for work or school. Episodic stress is short episodes of high stress, such as taking on too much work, then, being unable to get the stress out of your system. Finally, chronic stress is one that has been linked to chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Chronic stress is very serious and needs to be managed with care and helping professionals. Burnout is a complete feeling of exhaustion and can make you withdraw from other people. Burnout can lead to cynicism and can cause you to delay tasks.

During our Coping with Stress virtual seminars at the Parenting Academy, we talk to parents and caregivers about managing stress and building our capacity, as parents, for emotional well-being, which centers around three main strategies:

  • Awareness of unhealthy thinking
  • Shifting negative self-talk and automatic thoughts
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts
Focus on the things that you can control, and let the other things go.

First, ask yourself, “What evidence do I have for this thought or idea?” Then, ask, “What could be another explanation?” Finally, ask yourself, “What can I do to change or shift my thinking that would lead to a positive outcome?

To prevent stress and burnout, it’s important to plan daily activities that alleviate stress, just like you would plan to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks or watch your favorite show on Netflix. It’s important to invest in yourself in ways that add years to your life.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Invest in your heart – Eating heart healthy foods such as leafy green vegetables, lean fish and meat, and minimizing sugar, can contribute to having a good nutritional balance. (See My Plate.gov or Harvard Healthy Eating Plate). You can use cooking as a way to learn math, science, experiment with food and enjoy eating new foods.
  2. Invest in your body – Pumping oxygen into your blood is not only good for your heart it is also good for your mind. Studies show that exercising can release positive “happy” hormones into your body and relieve stress. Children love to exercise with their parents. Families are taking more walks, riding bikes, playing soccer and making the most of their own backyards.
  3. Invest in your brain – Has anyone ever given you a prescription to laugh? Well, if not, consider this your first one. Laughing soothes tension, stimulates organs, re-wires new neural pathways in your brain and alleviates stress. When parents take time to play with their children, this can involve 5-10 minutes of mutual enjoyment, laughter and a break from your day. Children learn from play and play can be a great way to co-regulate.

When you invest in yourself, you will not only improve your own health, you will also be modeling health and wellness for your children; you will be more present for your child, and you will be having fun in the process. That’s a gift that will last a lifetime.

If you would like more information on the Parenting Academy or wish to register for parenting coaching or virtual seminars, please go to www.parenting-academy.org.

Resources:
www.choosemyplate.gov
www.hsph.harvard.edu
www.hhs.gov/fitness/beactive/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html
www.parenting-academy.org


When September Ends: Keeping Up the Conversation

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of effort put into decreasing the stigma around mental health disorders, depression, and anxiety. Celebrities and community leaders have shared their stories, and national and state campaigns have been developed to spread awareness about these causes. You may have been noticing a lot of messaging this past month about mental health and suicide prevention, and that is because September is National Suicide Prevention Month. From posts on social media and radio ads, to webinars and virtual trainings; there have been a lot of great opportunities to discuss the importance of our mental health.

Now, as Suicide Prevention month has officially come to a close, I am wondering about ways that my community can continue to support our collective mental health, especially now when some individuals may need it more than ever. I am thinking about the little things that each of us can do on a daily basis to help out our friends and loved ones—and stay connected—even when far apart.

I experienced a really wonderful example of this type of “small-scale” support the other day when I was visiting my doctor. Though I was there for something unrelated, the nurse began the visit by not only checking my physical vital signs, but my mental and emotional vital signs, as well. Now, this may be nothing new to anyone; clinics have been collecting these sorts of measures for some time. But the nurse extended a beautiful gesture after she completed the list of depression-screening questions: She said, “Thank you for sharing these answers with me.” And she meant it.

Once again, this is no big gesture and could have easily gone unnoticed. Yet, I so appreciated that the nurse took the extra second to recognize the importance of these questions and showed respect for my courage to respond. After all, answering these types of questions with honesty can be hard, especially when you’re not used to being asked about depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation in such a matter-of-fact manner. Sometimes you may even surprise yourself with the answers that come from your mouth because, for so many of us, we were trained from a young age to “pull ourselves up by the boot straps” and power forward.

Personally, I am really lucky to have people in my life who reach out on a pretty regular basis and check in with me about my mental health. I find that talking things out with a friend or family member can help diffuse the stress that can build up when I get too lost in my own head.

I try to return the favor and reach out to people in my life, and at times it can feel a bit awkward. I absolutely understand how it can be challenging to broach this subject with a family member, friend—or even an acquaintance. However, it is necessary that we connect with those around us and engage in these potentially challenging conversations, because many times a hurting person will not reach out for help themselves.

So, in honor of the end of September and Suicide Prevention Month, I encourage each of our readers to begin a conversation with someone about mental health and wellbeing. It can be as simple as asking a person about what they are doing to cope with social distancing, or even what brings them joy each day. It can be as simple as thanking someone for their time and honesty, just like the nurse did for me.

Whatever it is that you do, it makes a difference in the lives of others. And it may make a difference for you too!

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has resources available for Spanish speakers, as well as resources specific to veterans, and options for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

Some things to keep in mind…

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or chat with a professional. For more information, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/.


Back to School: Create a Schedule that Works

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Along with Skagit school districts’ back-to-school reopening plans, each school has provided students with a schedule. While it is very important to become familiar with this academic schedule, it is also important to develop a schedule at home that will work for your student, as well as the rest of the household. Here are some ideas that may help bring a sense of clarity to your weekly routine. 

1. Compartmentalize your day

For anyone who’s been working from home the past several months, you have probably weighed the costs and benefits of compartmentalizing your day. When the work day bleeds into the work evening, then into the work weekend, it becomes really important to define your time—for your mental health, if nothing else.

The same holds true for your child! Create a routine in which your student gets up, gets dressed and has breakfast, then progresses into their school day. While it can be tempting, it is important to change out of pajamas (at least from time to time!) and put on some day-time clothing. Compartmentalize the day into natural chunks of time: morning classes, lunch, afternoon classes, and end-of-day. The late afternoon should include a period of free time to allow your child to decompress from the day and to wrap up their school work.

2. Take breaks and eat well

Along these same lines, be sure that your student takes breaks and sets aside a time to have lunch. It can be easy for kids to snack while they work, and to eat lunch at their study space. However, it is good for the mind and body to take a breather and spend some time in a different part of the house or outside.

For breaks, it may be helpful to take 15-20 minutes every few hours (or more often, for younger children). Be sure that your child knows that taking a moment to breathe, stretch, and come back to their work is extremely important (even adults need to do this!). If your child is really struggling with a project or assignment, encourage taking a quick break.

3. Get organized

It may be helpful to work with your child on reviewing their weekly academic calendar and any due dates that they may have for assignments. A planner (either paper or digital) could be a great tool for some students, while others may need something that is easily accessible and clearly visible. Just like in a school classroom, your child may find it helpful to have a whiteboard by their desk with a list of assignments, or even a large calendar with due dates clearly marked. This may also be a good thing for you, as the parent, since you can keep track of your child’s schedule from afar.

4. Get active…daily!

This is critical for your child’s physical and mental health. When the weather still permits, encourage your child to go outside to take a walk or bike ride. For younger kids, their local playground may be re-opening! Be sure to talk about keeping distance from others, even when outside, and wear a mask if in a more crowded area.

When the weather starts to turn chilly and/or rainy (or smoky), find some things to do indoors that get their blood flowing! Exercise and dance videos can be fun, and even stretching can be done in small spaces. Doing the same activities every day can get tiresome, so encourage your student to try different ways to get moving. And if you can, do it with them!

5. Encourage socialization

Your child might be excited to get back to school, even if it is remote and online. It may be the first time in a while that they have seen some of their friends and peers after a long COVID summer, and this re-engagement might be a seriously needed mood-booster. But don’t be surprised if by October your student is feeling burned out on online schooling. This kind of socialization might not be enough for many children, and it is okay to admit that!

When your child is feeling antsy or moody, encourage some socialization with friends. While it isn’t advised to schedule in-person meetups with large groups of friends, an occasional get-together between “besties” can be really good for your child’s mental health. Arrange a playdate outdoors for young children (being mindful of the 5-person per week limit), and for older students, maybe a study session outdoors? Take care to maintain social distancing and have your child wear a face covering. While it isn’t “school like usual” with the variety of opportunities to interact, a few social activities a month can go a long way to promote health and wellbeing.

6. Be flexible!

Expect the need to shake things up. A routine is awesome and a schedule is great, but sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and it is okay to modify it if necessary. There will be days that your student is rocking it and crossing off one assignment after another. However, there will also be days when PJs and a bubble bath are the most important thing. Both are okay. 

What we are asking of our youth right now is unprecedented, and we must always keep our children’s health at the forefront. If you ever feel like your child is struggling, connect with their teacher (or other school staff) and ask for some advice. You don’t need to take on these challenging times alone.