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Ask Dr. Halverson: COVID-19: Time for Halloween resolutions

web 4 17 Halverson photo

By Dr. Jim Halverson

I do not like Halloween. Sure, it is fun to see children dressed up and smiling when I give them candy. However, ever since I was 3 years old when I was horribly frightened by a well-meaning youngster with an awful mask on Halloween, I have experienced some anxiety with even the friendliest of masks. Clown masks are especially unnerving to me.

I have decided to be proactive for Halloween this year. I have made a list of Halloween resolutions, for the first time, for all of us to consider. Why? Many of us are struggling. COVID-19, politics, the upcoming election, racism and hatred between people in our country are all concerns that are shoved in our face every day. They are wearing us down. Here are my resolutions for helping me cope with and enjoy the coming months ahead. I hope you will find these ideas helpful as well.

Resolution 1: Decrease information overload

News is generally bad. That is why so many of us watch it.  Stop! Limit watching or listening to news to short periods daily. I spend 30 minutes at most with the evening news and often skip it altogether. For updates on COVID-19, only use trusted and reliable sources such as the Ventura County Public Health website, which has links to the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control for state and national information. Do not use social media for your source. There is way too much bias and misinformation placed there.

Resolution 2: Safely stay socially connected

Find your group of people you feel comfortable with and stick with them.  Always have a plan to stay as safe as possible. Plan gatherings for outside only. Wear masks at all times, (except eating), practice social distancing and wash your hands frequently.

Don’t let social distancing become social isolation. Harvard’s Study of Adult Development discovered that a key to happiness is social connectedness. The study followed hundreds of people over 80 years from the time they were teenagers until well into their 90s. The massive study revealed that people who ended up the happiest were the ones who really leaned into good relationships with family, friends and community. Close relationships were better predictors of long and pleasant lives than money, IQ or fame.

Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 to 2004, summed it up like so: “The key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

Resolution 3: Do acts of kindness for others

There are other ways to make you feel you are connected to others in a wider web. Shift your focus outward from yourself to others. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor  at the University of California Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want,” states: “Studies show that anything we can do to direct our attention off of ourselves and onto other people or other things is usually productive and makes us happier. A great option is to perform an act of kindness — like donating to charity, or volunteering to read to a child or an older person online.”

Lyubomirsky’s research shows that committing any type of kind act can make you happier, though you should choose something that fits your personality. You may also want to vary what you do, because once you get used to doing something, you may start taking it for granted and not get as much of a boost from it. So, you might call to check up on a lonely friend one day, deliver groceries to an older neighbor the next day, and make a donation the day after that.

 

Resolution 4: Find daily purpose and meaning

Set daily goals that include activities that provide purpose and meaning and stick with them. Employ regular acts of kindness, daily exercise, reading, meditation, or other activities that provide a sense of well-being for you. 

Resolution 5: Practice gratitude daily

Develop an attitude of gratitude. Write a letter of gratitude to someone for what they have done for you. Make a written or mental list of things you are grateful for and add to it regularly. Try “awe walks” by paying attention to what is around us when you are active outdoors. Our beautiful mountains, the awesome oak trees, birds singing, the pleasant weather during an early-morning or late-afternoon activity are great examples of what nature offers us to be grateful for.

Resolution 6: Celebrate the holidays wisely

The CDC website offers a long list of ways to celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving safely. Thanksgiving will be particularly challenging. The consequences of having COVID-19, particularly for older folks who we really want to gather with, can be dire. It is much wiser this year to stay in small groups. Consider doing a Zoom Thanksgiving with people you love rather than risk exposing them to a virus that could potentially end their life.

Resolution 7: If you spend time in person with others, do it wisely

Much of COVID-19’s spread is driven by informal gatherings of family and friends. If you must travel for the holidays, stop potentially risky behavior for at least two weeks prior to your trip, including dining indoors at restaurants or being in close contact with people unfamiliar to you.

It is also reasonable to get tested with a molecular test just before you go (rapid antigen tests are less reliable). Do not get a false sense of security just because you have a negative test, however. Not only can there be falsely negative tests, but you can become infected after the test was taken. In addition, if you are concerned about a potential high-risk exposure in the 14 days prior to leaving for your trip, don’t go. 

Know the risk of getting infected with the coronavirus where you are going. MyCovidRisk.app lets you find your risk of becoming infected based on your destination, your planned activity, the duration of that activity and what percentage of people will be wearing masks. Remember, wearing your mask properly protects others, but it only partially protects you. Use common sense. This is not the time to be traveling to Texas, Florida or other current hot spots of COVID-19.

Resolution 8: Keep things in perspective

Yes, this fall and winter will be tough. Keep in mind the long-term benefits of making short-term changes. Personal responsibility, self-care and care for others now will pay off later. Next year is going to be much better. Let’s get through this pandemic and let’s get through this safely.

Stay committed, stay properly informed, stay hopeful, stay safe and stay well.

 

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News.

 

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