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'We’re Here To Help,' Says Wisconsin Therapist During A Pandemic Holiday Season

As the year comes to an end, struggles with mental health will not disappear. That is why therapist Christine Finerty says it's important to work towards putting yourself first and finding what can safely make you happy during this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a community-wide traumatic event. On top of a health crisis, we’re also facing a mental health crisis as nearly every aspect of our lives is touched by the pandemic. Many of us are ready for the end of 2020, but the new year won’t necessarily bring clarity to help us move forward. And with the holidays coming up, there are additional stressors to face.

So how can we make sure we’re taking care of ourselves as we face a long winter and cases continue to surge? Christine Finerty is alicensed professional therapist in Elm Grove, Wis., and shares some advice on how to remain resilient.

Firstly, she says not to worry about trying to replicate every single holiday tradition. It’s OK to take an off year and check in with those around you to see what traditions make them happy.

Finerty did this with her own family at Thanksgiving. Despite thinking everyone was going to miss the huge spread of sides she usually makes, that wasn’t what made them happy. So she let her kids make their own sides this year and it was a success.

“My oldest wanted mac and cheese — homemade mac and cheese — we’d never done it before, and he made it and it was a smash hit. Everybody loved it,” she says. “And I thought, 'well I gained something from this, I know it doesn’t look like the tradition that I thought we’d have on the table, but from this point forward he loves it.'”

When it comes to gathering, Finerty says you need to be proactive about setting boundaries and sticking to them, even if others have different boundaries around COVID-19 safety.

“Being able to say, 'this works for us, this is what is best for us and in our family,' and letting the pressure of everything else go,” she says.

Finerty says putting yourself and your safety first can be difficult — especially when it feels like there is pressure from others to gather or take off your mask — but it's OK to put yourself first.

"You can always call a counselor and ask for advice; you don't have to make an appointment to come in. You can ask for advice for yourself, you can ask for advice for someone else and we're here to help right now."

Another issue she says people are struggling with is feeling unproductive. She says that often people are not shifting their context of what productive or successful looks like in our current world.

“I think one of the things that has happened is mentally we have all stayed where we were pre-COVID, and we’re not necessarily taking into consideration how much everyone — the whole world — has changed,” says Finerty.

Whether it’s school, work, or your personal life, it can be hard to remember that everyone is experiencing this pandemic.

“We all have to adjust our level of expectation,” she notes.

Life is hard right now, and it may sometimes feel difficult to do things like get out of bed or accomplish your daily routine. Finerty says if this feeling lasts for over two weeks, that’s when it is time to reach out to a professional and ask for advice.

“You can always call a counselor and ask for advice; you don’t have to make an appointment to come in," Finerty says. "You can ask for advice for yourself, you can ask for advice for someone else. And we’re here to help right now."

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.