Gratitude During COVID Pandemic

Historically, as the calendar year comes to an end, I take time to reflect on the past year. I ask myself: What did I learn? How did I grow? What ways did I struggle? I create a mental Top Ten list of my favorite memories I long to hold forever.

I pause to honor the difficult memories, too, and consider what’s left to heal. Then, I take those reflections and allow them to help me consider goals for the new year.

As 2020 neared its end, I found myself avoiding that tradition. This past year felt like too much to process properly. I felt stuck. Then, as the great prophet Oprah Winfrey says, I had…

This tradition involves practicing GRATITUDE!!!

Ahem…..Confession.

Yes. It’s true.  My gratitude practice struggled in 2020.

This year brought heavy grief on a global, national, state, local, and personal level. There was no manual on how to be a mom, partner, friend, daughter, sister, teacher (not self-inflicted), or therapist during a pandemic.

Gratitude is high on my personal values list and typically feels second nature to practice. However, sometimes the things that once felt  easy can feel almost impossible in times of crisis.

As the dumpster fire of 2020 continued to spread, this value was challenged for me. I could always force myself to find something to be grateful for, but the key word here is FORCE. What once felt familiar, was now a struggle. I wasn’t feeling grateful for this pandemic year.  So how can I practice it, if I don’t feel it?

As I processed these thoughts with my best friend, he said, “Thankfulness is a feeling, gratitude is an action.” This brought my second ah-ha moment.  My ACTIONS of gratitude were lacking because I didn’t always FEEL it.  With this revelation, I researched ways to jump start my gratitude actions in 2021:

“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”
Henri Frederic Amiel

  1. Keep a gratitude journal.
  2. Consider the small things; they add up.
  3. Complete a random act of kindness.
  4. Take 2 min to think about someone who inspires you.
  5. Say it out loud: Tell someone you love something you are grateful for. Tell them you love them while you’re at it too.
  6. Write a thank you note to someone.
  7. Volunteer your time for a cause you are passionate about.
  8. Create a gratitude jar.  Write the items you’re thankful for and place them in a jar, read as needed.
  9. Create a piece of art to represent something you are thankful for.
  10. Build routine: pick one consistent time of the day to practice.

If you have also struggled to feel thankful this year in the midst of grief and loss, consider trying one of these action steps to increase your gratefulness. What other ways do you practice gratitude?

Blog written by Sentier therapist, Alyssa Haggerty

Home for the Holidays… Still.

santa with face mask

It was great to see how creative families were in making Halloween an exciting holiday, even with COVID-19 restrictions. There were candy chutes, scavenger hunts, and small get-togethers with safe “pods” of people.

With winter holidays approaching, feelings of disappointment might be coming up because you can’t see family or do certain traditions.

Many of you have also been home for the past nine months, which means coming home for the holidays just isn’t the same. It is important to acknowledge that loss and feelings of disappointment. It is also important to try and embrace the current situation.

Just because the holiday season looks different this year, doesn’t mean it can’t have the usual holiday cheer! And hey, you might even create a new tradition!

things to do for christmas

I have 14 ideas for you on how to have a safe and fun holiday this season:

  1. Have a virtual ugly sweater party. You can make DIY ugly sweaters or if crafting is not up your alley, there are many available for purchase online. At your virtual party you can vote on who is the “ugliest.”
  2. Do a Secret Santa gift exchange. You can draw names virtually using a website such as drawnames.com. Deliver gifts secretly and follow social distancing by dropping them off on the giftee’s doorstep or mail the gift anonymously.
  3. Have a virtual family dinner. The holidays are often a time to get together and enjoy a big meal. Before the holiday dinner share recipes or do driveway drop offs so the family favorite dishes can be enjoyed. Share the meal or dessert together via Zoom.
  4. Watch your favorite holiday movies. You can still watch your favorite holiday movies! If you want you can discuss them with your friends and family while you watch using Teleparty.
  5. Bake cookies. Baking cookies is always a classic. Families often have their own traditions around baking cookies for the holidays. This year you could bake them together virtually and deliver them to friends and family.
  6. Go to the St. Paul Winter Carnival. The Saint Paul Winter Carnival is happening this year with COVID-19 restrictions.
  7. Go to the GLOW Holiday Festival. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds is having a drive-thru event that will include a light display, State Fair food court, and more.
  8. Go to a drive-thru light display. Severs Holiday Lights (Shakopee, MN), Christmas in Color (Shakopee, MN), Bentlyville (Duluth, MN), Sleepy Eye in Motion (Sleepy Eye, MN), Sam’s Christmas Village (Somerset, WI) and Christmas Village (Chippewa Falls, WI) are having drive-thru light displays this year. Get everyone a warm beverage, load up the car, put on holiday music, and enjoy a cozy ride in the car.
  9. Look at light displays in residential neighborhoods. Many houses in the Twin Cities have impressive light displays. Here is a 2020 light display guide.
  10. Attend an outdoor/virtual Holiday Market. Holiday markets are great ways to check out goods from local vendors. You can get gifts for everyone on your list. If visiting in person, don’t forget to wear your mask.
  11. Attend a virtual event. Holidazzle has gone virtual this year. Check out the link for more information: https://www.holidazzle.com/
  12. Check out Gingerbread Wonderland at the Norway House. This exhibit of elaborate gingerbread houses is available to see in-person by appointment from November 6-January 2 or virtually beginning December 6.
  13. See a play. The Ordway and the Guthrie are having virtual performances this year.
  14. Embrace Hygge. Hygge is a defining characteristic of Danish culture that means: a quality of coziness that results in feelings of contentment and well-being. Read more to capture this feeling in your life: https://www.countryliving.com/life/a41187/what-is-hygge-things-to-know-about-the-danish-lifestyle-trend/

christmas lights st paul

There are many creative ways to make the best of the holidays this year. What ideas do you have?

Blog was written by therapist, Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC

College Students and COVID-19

covid-19 memeTo say that it is a weird year for college students is an understatement.

When I think of college, I think of it being a time to meet new people and “find yourself.” I think of busy cafeterias and full lecture halls. This year schools look a lot different.

Some schools are fully online, while others are doing in-person classes with restrictions, and others are doing a hybrid model. Some students are choosing to defer their enrollment altogether because none of these options seem desirable.

College students know they won’t get the typical college experience because of the pandemic and want to wait to attend school until they can.

I remember my first night of college. My wing had a “wing event” where all my hallmates went to get ice cream at Sonic together. Around October there was an event in which all organizations on campus set up booths and you could walk around and see what interested you. I signed up for Psychology Club. Events such as these are online or cancelled this year, which makes it more difficult to try new things and meet new people.

how to deal with covid-19 in college

Whether your classes are virtual, in-person, or you decided to defer a year, you are undoubtedly experiencing grief. Grief does not just occur when there is a loss of a loved one.

People have feelings of grief when life goes differently than they envisioned or there is a loss of any kind. There are so many losses when it comes to COVID. School is different, sports are cancelled, events have been called off, we can’t see friends, etc.

Fortunately, something that helps with grief is gratitude. Since it’s November, expressing gratitude often happens if not personally, at a family holiday or tradition.  Sometimes it can be hard to think of something that you are grateful for, so here are some tips to start your gratitude practice.

Gratitude Tips:

  1. Write down three things that you are grateful for each day
  2. Let people in your life know what you appreciate about them
  3. Make a collage of things you are grateful for; engage someone in your bubble to clip magazines together!
  4. Try to think of the positives in negative situations (eg. being able to stay connected with friends and family through virtual get-togethers)
  5. Make a gratitude practice part of your routine by thinking about what you are grateful for at the same time every day (such as meal time or before bed)
  6. Post what you are grateful for on social media
  7. Expressing gratitude is not intended to minimize your feelings of anxiety, sadness, etc. You can feel your feelings AND be grateful for something.

COVID is hard and it has taken and will take a lot away from us. Despite this, what is something you can find to be grateful for?

Also see Preventing Social Isolation to Protect Our Mental Health


Blog written by Andrea Schroeder, MS, LPCC, therapist at Sentier Psychotherapy

Will Seasonal Affective Disorder Arrive Early During COVID?

Winter… ready or not, here it comes!

With winter comes beautiful snow falls, cozy sweaters, and warm cups of cocoa around the fireplace. But let’s be real, winters can also be long, dark, and take a toll on our mental health.

People often describe getting “winter blues,” also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, and experiencing feelings of sadness, changes in mood, low energy, and difficulty sleeping. In addition to the change in season, the uncertainty that comes with the Coronavirus pandemic might add stress and have negative impacts on our health, schooling, work-life balance, and ability to get a good night’s sleep.

sunshine and your health

With this in mind, now is the time to begin preparing ourselves for the effects of these seasonal changes and continued social isolation related to Covid-19 in the winter months. Ways to fight against symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Get as much outdoor time and sunlight as possible
  • Find creative ways to stay connected with loved ones
  • Exercise
  • Practice good sleep hygiene

Another way to help manage “winter blues” and increased stressors, is taking the right vitamins and supplements. Vitamin D is sometimes known as “the sunshine vitamin” due to its production in the body in response to sunlight. Vitamin D helps our immune system fight off disease and builds healthy bones. But did you know, vitamin D is also linked to improved mood and reducing symptoms related to depression?

hello sunshine

Vitamin D and Depression

Researchers have found links between vitamin D deficiencies and increased levels of anxiety and depression. Studies show that individuals taking vitamin D reported a decrease in their depression. Because increasing your sun exposure during the winter months is difficult, taking a vitamin D supplement may be a healthy alternative to getting that needed dose of sunshine. Vitamin D can also be found in foods such as:

  • fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna
  • egg yolks
  • cheese
  • beef liver
  • mushrooms
  • fortified milk
  • fortified cereals and juices

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/161618

vitamin d supplements

Can Vitamin D Supplements Help Fight Depression?

Health professionals recommend taking magnesium along with your vitamin D to help support your body in absorbing the vitamin and receiving its full benefits. Taking vitamin D and magnesium supplements are best paired with other practices, such as those listed above, to help treat depression.

When considering taking vitamin D and magnesium, be sure to consult with your doctor to ensure you take the correct amount and consider all potential effects to your individual health.

How do you plan to combat winter blues? Do you take any vitamins or supplements that are helpful for your mood and overall health?

This blog was written by Sentier therapist, Tana Welter, MSW

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