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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Burnout — Is Stress Affecting My Health?

2020 might be remembered as the Year of Stress. Pandemic fatigue, COVID-19 stress, and other issues with mental health have increased throughout the year, but there may be a silver lining: less stigma around therapy and tighter communities.

Stress is the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. It’s necessary for our survival, but when it’s triggered constantly, it can develop into any number of mental health disorders. 2020 has been ripe with stressors that cause anxiety, grief, and trauma. 

2020 Stress

As we wrap up the year, let’s evaluate: How has stress affected our mental health?


For many, the pandemic began with anxiety—we didn’t know much about the incoming coronavirus, and many of us were afraid of what could happen to us, to our family, to our way of life.

As the year went on, the pressures of the election, social unrest, and the unpredictability and fear of COVID only amplified feelings of anxiety. Anxiety might even continue at its peak as we near the holidays, with the pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings.

This constant worry is a source of stress, which can strain mental health, especially if you were already prone to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety or depression.


In 2020, people will experience grief and loss in ways we haven’t seen for a long time. And the grief isn’t just for those we have lost—that grief can already be unbearable—but also the loss of jobs, special events, travel plans, and routines. Each time people encounter aspects of their lives that have changed due to the pandemic, this triggers a sense of grief that builds on the 2020 stress.


Anxiety and loss develop into stress. But other situations arising from the pandemic can also cause stress, like watching others who don’t follow COVID restrictions. Observing family and friends acting in an unsafe manner can evoke particular stress if you are an essential worker doing all you can to protect your loved ones from the virus.

Furthermore, if you’re a parent or a student, online school is likely to cause stress and lead to burnout. Parents have to deal with their own workload and fulfill the role teachers once filled when checking on their students. Students have lost the socialization that they got from school and the positive attention they received in person from teachers. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness understandably settle in.


Many people are experiencing constant trauma during 2020 and aren’t even aware of it. The body internalizes chronic stress, and the result is that we are stuck on high alert. Symptoms of trauma can include emotional numbness, persistent avoidance of reminders of the trauma, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and feeling jumpy and irritable.

Effects of Stress

Stress itself isn’t an issue, but over time it creates a buildup of cortisol in the brain, which can have long-term effects on your health. When you experience chronic stress, your body produces more cortisol than it can release. High levels of cortisol in your brain can wear down its ability to function properly. This can lead to less socialization, loss of brain cells, and a shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. However, chronic stress might increase the size of the amygdala, making the brain more receptive to stress, creating a feedback loop.

Stress can also lead to effects on your body. Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are a few common effects of chronic stress. Stress can also affect other parts of your body, like your reproductive and digestive systems, while also damaging your immune system and worsening any illnesses you may already have. 

Silver Lining

Although we have lived through an especially difficult moment, 2020 has taught us some important lessons.

We have learned how to maintain connections with loved ones. Having honest conversations is necessary for our mental health, and we have learned how to have them, even if it’s through the phone.

Many people have begun to consider therapy to improve their well-being. Those with financial and social means have been more likely to reach out for help and work on themselves, which is overall a good thing. Hopefully, this will lead to less stigma surrounding therapy.

Onward, 2021

It’s important to look toward the future with optimism. If you’re feeling stressed about the pandemic, job loss, or any other issue, and you’re worried that it might contribute to your relapse, The Haven at Pismo is here to help. We provide individualized therapy and aftercare support that reaches to the core of your needs and develops your strengths to help you manage the stresses of 2020, 2021, and beyond. 

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you on your recovery journey.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Surviving the Holidays: Pandemic Edition

Planning for the holidays can be a stressful time with figuring out which friends or family you will go see if you are hosting, and when you will travel.

Now the Coronavirus has turned up the dial on these concerns and added its own problems along with it.

Changing Traditions

Affectionately held traditions may not be happening, in the same way, this year, and you are possibly wondering how to navigate this holiday season with both safety and celebration in mind. Understandably, you want to be able to be in the spirit of the season, but there might be a few things you want to consider before your holiday gathering. 

Ways to Make Connecting Over the Holidays Safer

  • Go Virtual. Though this has been the answer to many COVID concerns, it continues to be a good option over the holidays. This could allow you to expand your circle of people who you include to those who normally aren’t a part of your tradition.
  • Get Creative. Swap family recipes to enjoy your favorite dishes. Mail goodies or gifts to one another. Plan a group activity to watch a movie or a sporting event at the same time to enjoy time together in a different way.
  • Be Outside. If you are doing events in person, it is suggested to be outside if the weather permits. There could be a new holiday tradition of taking a walk together to look at decorations or have a distanced event in the backyard.
  • Follow the Guidelines. The CDC has given a wonderful guide for the holidays to consider keeping the season safe. Remember the basics of hand washing, wearing a mask, and keeping a distance if you are having any gatherings.

Set Expectations

It is important to remember that each person’s view of “safe” for the holidays could be very different. Conversations with family members about what the plans are this year are crucial to help this season go smoothly.

Before talking with family, it may be helpful to consider the level of risk you are comfortable taking. If your boundary is to celebrate in-person with the members of your household exclusively, make that clear from the beginning and have some suggestions prepared on how to connect in other ways. Some may feel strongly to keep the traditions the same but remind yourself that you do not need to give in to peer pressure.

Along with this, consider those other people may not feel comfortable with your plans. Maybe you designed an outdoor celebration with masking and someone you invited does not want to participate in person. Respect the decisions of others and do not take these actions as personal but as a measure of safety. Consider making portions of events virtual to include all parties. 

Loneliness, Grief, and Cravings

The holidays were a challenging time for many people pre-pandemic. It can be a reminder of the loss of loved ones and a time that most do not want to be alone. People may be grieving the loss of travel plans or their hopes for this past year, and this season there are families experiencing their first year without someone.

Loneliness and grief can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts. When experiencing these difficult feelings people can fall back to old coping mechanisms that are threatening to sobriety.

Don’t be surprised if you are feeling more triggered to drink or use drugs, as this is quite normal. What’s essential is recognizing that risk and caring for yourself.

Tips For Staying Sober Over the Holidays

  1. Set-Up Support: Make sure you are not keeping difficult emotions only to yourself. Call a loved one and let them know how you are feeling and take time to connect. There have also been virtual AA and NA meetings to provide a space to share struggles. You are not alone in this experience.
  2. Find Meaningful Activities: Take time to do the things that are special for you. Do you have a favorite cookie recipe or a movie you always watched with your family? Do the things that matter to you for the season or just in general. Taking this time will help build peace.
  3. HALT: If you are considering thinking about HALT (are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?). If you, then make a plan to address that need. Such as taking a nap, calling a friend, getting take-out, or going for a walk. Listening to your needs will help you feel more centered.
  4. Seek Help: Therapy is an option every step of the way to learn new tools, brainstorm ideas, and be a space to share. There is no wrong time to ask for help.
If you are needing support to deal with the emotional toll of the holidays this season - The Haven is here to help. Reach out today to talk about how we can support you or your loved ones.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Six Foundations of Recovery

At The Haven, we believe that recovery rests on six important foundations: motivation, coping with cravings, managing emotions, nurturing relationships, lifestyle balance, and finding purpose in life. Each is integral to the recovery process, so read below to learn more about what comprises a successful recovery.