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Managing holiday isolation with resilience

One of the things that allows people to persevere through challenges like we are facing now is resilience.

SAN DIEGO — Many Americans will be spending the holidays, including Thanksgiving, without family and friends as COVID numbers surge across the country and here in California.

One of the things that allows people to persevere through challenges like we are facing now is resilience, and there are some relatively simple steps you can take to build your resilience during this holiday season and beyond.

"Resilience is a concept that we use in professional sports, and it's applicable to all of life, and that is, how do we endure a very difficult time?," said Dr. Michael Lardon. The psychiatrist and mental performance coach works with Olympians and other elite athletes to help them rebound from adversity, but he says all us have the ability to write our own comeback story. 

He says one of the most important things is to see the big picture, and know the pandemic isn't going to last forever.

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"People are telling me, 'I feel like it's never going to end', but then you have to look at that thought and think, 'that's not really true, we can make it', and understand that this is going to end. There's going to be light after the tunnel and we're going to be okay, we're going to get through it," he said.

When you catch yourself worrying or having negative thoughts, he said try to reframe those thoughts into something positive.

Dr. Lardon said resilience can be learned. "Although some people are innately more resilient than others, we do know that there are certain factors and characteristics of people that are more resilient to stress."

He says the road to resilience includes staying socially connected, even if it's done virtually through platforms like Zoom or FaceTime. 

"Even that type of interaction is very valuable. Humans, we're social creatures and we need contact and that helps us. It helps our immune system. It decreases our stress," he said.

Especially with Thanksgiving, he suggested placing a laptop on the table if your family can't be with you, so you can enjoy a meal together and have a virtual conversation.

Next, make time to meditate.

"It can be as simple as taking a walk outside and really taking inventory of the nature. It can even be in your backyard. It's a time to let your mind just drift and really try to feel connected to the greater world outside." He said in contrast, when people are stressed, they don't see anything. All they do is worry all the time, so it's important to take time to be centered, whether we're in a pandemic or not.

He suggests taking deep breaths throughout the day, which has a direct impact on your physical health.

"That breath engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation system. And the physiology is that your blood pressure comes down, your heart rate comes down and you sort of become more connected," he explained.

Dr. Lardon said it's also important to get some exercise every day, and find time to have some fun, because laughter really is good medicine.

"You want to play and you want to try to have some fun. An interesting thing is self-parody, the ability to laugh at yourself or humor , that runs antithetical to stress, meaning the more you can laugh, the less stressed you are. So, anything you can do to try to have a little fun with that, that's really important stuff," he said. 

Dr. Lardon also cautioned against drinking excessive alcohol or turning to drugs to lessen stress. He said while it may make you feel more relaxed in the short term, it will make it much harder to cope and will affect your decision-making abilities if you become dependent.

As we close out 2020 and enter into the holiday season, many people are isolated from family and friends because of COVID-19. We will explore the impact of isolation on mental health in our series Going It Alone.

We’d also like to hear from you if you're Going It Alone this holiday season. 

If you want to share your story or have us address a specific topic, please send an email to yourstories@kfmb.com and add Going It Alone in the subject line.

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