Connection aids stress relief


On Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2020, the County Health and Human Services Agency confirmed 1,546 new COVID-19 cases, passing a record set just a few days prior. The rise in cases and hospitalizations, and San Diego’s readmittance to the purple tier, has cast a shadow on the winter holidays.

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control in June, nearly 40% of the adult population was suffering from COVID-19-related mental health issues.

Maricela Larkin, a clinical therapist, said it is important to recognize that the isolation and stress of the pandemic has affected many.

“It is OK to recognize that we are upset even though we don’t have anyone in particular to blame,” said Larkin, who has formal training in trauma intervention. “It is OK to recognize that this has taken our energy, that this has taken our hope away. It is OK to go through this difficult time.”

San Diego County laid out official restrictions and recommendations for the winter holidays that are likely to add strain to what is a typically stressful season during what has already been a difficult year. Festivals, live-entertainment and gatherings of more than three households are prohibited, even if held outside, and certain seasonal attractions like ice-skating rinks will not be allowed to open.

In a free counseling video on her website, Larkin recommends those struggling with COVID-19 trauma to unite and stay connected.

“It is extremely important to recognize that these are not times to isolate. Do not go through this alone,” she said. “While we want to be respectful to what the authorities are asking us to do and practice social distancing, one of the most important things that we must do when we are experiencing the effects of trauma is to stay in connection with one another…Find at least one good friend or one good counselor who can help you process your thoughts and emotions.”

Whether seeking professional help or personal connection, technology has allowed people to stay connected during isolation. Many counseling and therapy services have shifted to online platforms, like Chula Vista-based family counsellors Seeking Therapy who are temporarily offering online therapy sessions. They can be found at:

Zoom removed their 40-minute limit on free meetings on Thanksgiving, allowing families celebrating in isolation to chat as long as they wanted.

Trauma trained yoga instructor Claire Ameya Bela said yoga can be an excellent way to create a mental safe space during the holidays.

“Yoga is really about self-care. Yoga asks you to embrace how you feel and honor it,” said Bela, who wrote and leads the curriculum for Southwestern College’s yoga teacher training program. “My favorite thing about yoga is that when I take a yoga class, or when I have students take my class, my intention is to refill their cup, not deplete them.”

Although many yoga communities are still meeting outside and online, Bela said doing yoga from home can be a way to invite someone closer into community with you.

“Maybe you can do your yoga practice with a family member or someone you live with,” she said.

Despite closures and cancellations, holiday celebrations and traditions are being adapted. The County suggests movie nights and home decorating within households, sending pre-made dinners or ingredients through online food delivery services, and eating together virtually.

Drive-through events or reverse parades where participants do not leave their car are also encouraged by the County.

San Diego County offers online mental health resources here: