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December Behavioral Health Q&A Column

VPPPA has partnered with experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly Q&A article addressing questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your questions about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues and more. 

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations ​

Question: This holiday season I’m having an especially hard time focusing on gratitude. While I am grateful for so many things, those feeling continue to be overshadowed by general sadness for how many people are struggling right now. Is it emotionally unhealthy to feel this way?

Answer: Given the prolonged nature COVID19 and the related measures of quarantining, social distancing, dramatic changes to work and school schedules, it is completely natural to feel sadness, stress, and a sense of loss.  In fact, as we lived through our first Thanksgiving during the pandemic – and are in the midst of the holiday season – it is difficult for many to feel a sense of gratitude.

What is gratitude and why is it important? Gratitude is both a feeling and expression of appreciation and thankfulness. Experiencing a genuine sense of gratitude has been found to have positive physical and mental health benefits – improving sleep, reducing blood pressure, increasing happiness in our relationships and at work.  But, in these difficult times, if you’re not feeling gratitude, that’s ok. There are still steps you can take.

First, pay attention to your feelings and be authentic to yourself. Many of us are feeling sad, discouraged, worried and angry.  Remember that feelings are a normative part of experience, including anger; it is HOW we express our feelings that makes a difference.  Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings, try to identify two aspects of your life that you feel thankful for –large or small.

One might be thankful for having a pet if you live alone, for friendships, family health, your sense of spirituality, or for specific comforts – yes, even like Netflix – that allow you to manage through the pandemic.
Finally, it is okay to feel both grateful and burned out on trying to be positive. As Jim McCauley, Associate Director of Riverside Trauma Center said recently, “Gratitude fatigue is something a lot of folks are struggling with these days – it’s been so long. How can I be grateful for things I have when so many others have so much less?  Thinking of gratitude as an action word can help, making it a part of our practice by saying thank you more to people in our lives.”

Question: How does financial and job security really affect mental health? These topics are especially top of mind during the holidays and the end of year. If I know how they impact my teams, I’m hoping I can better support them at work. 

Answer: Financial worries during the holiday season is a very real problem.  Even for those that do not celebrate the holidays, the advertisements and messages for buying things and materialism are everywhere!  Several months ago our Mindwise team partnered with a financial consultant to offer a webinar on the topic of financial stress and mental health to support both individuals and employers. Here are some of the important takeaways:

  • Get physically organized: regardless of what and how much you have in savings, retirement accounts etc., make sure you know where it is.
  • Talk with someone you trust – consult with a financial professional or a friend or family member who is good with saving money.  Talking with someone you trust can help to develop a plan, which will lesson worry and provide a sense of control over the situation.
  • Start with a plan and start small – Once you have done some research, develop a reasonable plan. Make sure it is a plan you can stay with over time – it might be saving $25 per month or $100 per month. No amount is too small, it’s important to build it into your savings routine.

As an employer guide employee financial wellness: 

  • Advocate for financial wellness and financial literacy programs for employees
  • Know what programs are already offered: financial management programs, retirement options, etc.
  • Recognize that financial stress is a part of life like other stressors – doing so will take away from embarrassment about talking about this important topic that impacts all of us.