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Mental health professionals have advice for handling another pandemic winter


We're in the midst of another winter COVID surge, and it is hard on everyone in all ways. We asked a few mental health professionals this week for any advice they might have on beating the emotional challenges of this moment.

HILLARY MCBRIDE: My name is Dr. Hillary McBride. I'm a registered psychologist in British Columbia, Canada. I think that there is a kind of COVID burnout that's happening for people who are experiencing - this is now year or two of feeling like they have to set their hopes and their dreams and their aspirations or measures of success on the shelf again. And there's almost an element of learned helplessness. If we feel defeated in our efforts to pursue freedom or creativity or expression or change enough times, at some point, our nervous system says, I just can't keep doing this anymore. So we learn, in a way, to be helpless. We learn to be defeated. We learn to stay stuck.

And so what I want to suggest to people is that this doesn't have to be a situation where we are powerless, but we can choose instead of going outward in our adventures, perhaps to go inwards in our adventures. So slowing down, using movement, being creative in ways around our homes, thinking about pursuing inner explorations around meaning and insight into our own family history - I mean, those are ways that we can feel like there is something happening.

NEDRA GLOVER TAWWAB: My name is Nedra Glover Tawwab. I am a licensed therapist in Charlotte, N.C. People are getting a bit fatigued because we thought we were out of it. We saw this beautiful, bright light at the end of the tunnel, and then here comes another wave. I would go back to much of the advice that I offered at the beginning of the pandemic, which is control what you can. That is your home environment. That is yourself. And figuring out some ways that perhaps you can engage even while in the pandemic, creating those bubbles again and figuring out which friends, which family members are willing to sort of pandemic in the way that you pandemic, so you can have that connection to others.

One thing that I love to do is find books that have short passages because reading two pages and being done with a chapter feels like a task that we can complete. And it's a very quick task. And it's something that can make you feel accomplished. Right now, I am in the middle of one of my goals of 2022, which is to read all of Maya Angelou's memoirs. And what I love about her books is the short chapters. And I feel very accomplished after reading, you know, three or four pages and being done with the chapter and, you know, by the end of the month completing a book.

DEBORAH JACOBS: I'm Deborah Jacobs. I'm an expressive art therapist in the Boston area. I think what's been really helpful is to remind everyone that we're not back where we started. And that seems to be the instinct - is that people are starting to feel like, oh, no, you know, has everything that's happened been for naught? And it doesn't take much to just kind of bring some calm to those anxious parts of us that worry about that. I often will say, this is my window therapy minute of the day. You know, just going to look out the window and find something that piques my interest. And it could be something really specific or something very abstract, like the way the slice of sky that I can see is hitting the edge of the roof of my neighbor's house. But it could be anything. And if it feels good, then I'm going to kind of create these little hacks or shortcuts so that I can feel that way as much as I possibly can throughout the day. So maybe that means that there's a particular color that immediately kind of shortcuts into that sense of calm and clarity. And so I'm going to plant that blue color wherever I can. It's about feeling OK in a moment that otherwise might not feel so OK.

SIMON: Deborah Jacobs, Nedra Glover Tawwab and Hillary McBride.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.