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Among the things that are decidedly not cool this season is the over the river and through the woods experience. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting the kibosh on many of us going to grandmother’s house or anywhere else for Thanksgiving, and for some of us, that might be the last straw for our mental health.

Gov. Jared Polis recently said that by using such restraint, we are much less likely to be “bringing a loaded pistol for Grandma’s head” – not exactly a feel-good directive for COVID-19 fatigue.

As the case numbers for COVID-19 rage across much of the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control is strongly urging that people neither travel nor gather for Thanksgiving. In Thursday’s warning, the agency pointed to the million new cases posted nationwide in the past week. Statewide, a record 1,500 were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Thursday. Intensive care beds in use also hit a new record, with 86% filled, and more than a third of hospitals anticipate staff shortages by next week.

On Thursday, Andrea Carlstrom, Chaffee County’s Director of Public Health, said that gatherings, workplaces and travel comprise the “trifecta” for the spread of the coronavirus. With 15 Colorado counties moving into Level Red (severe) Nov. 20, she and others at the county’s twice-weekly COVID-19 roundtable implored people to take precautions very seriously and to urge those who are not to make some changes.

Chaffee County remained in Level Yellow (concern) as of Thursday. County Commissioner Greg Felt said that given the current trajectory, Chaffee was on borrowed time before moving into the more restrictive Level Orange (high risk).

The stress has a lot of us grasping for our traditions and routines, and science confirms that rituals are good for our mental health. From turkey and pumpkin pie to the Alice’s Restaurant sing-along after being sufficiently primed on wine and/or tryptophan, Thanksgiving is the big American intergenerational ritual, bringing people together at a prescribed time and place to revisit the familiar. It’s about the always.

That said, this truly isn’t the time to mess with anything that fosters our emotional well being, is it? But it’s 2020 and here we are, going into the dark days that even in a good year can make a person feel less than okay. Our inboxes are filled with holiday recipes for two people. Turkey producers are selling smaller birds this year, and Gov. Polis just added Level Purple to the extreme end of the COVID-19 dial. What does that even mean?

“Most people are just so over it,” said Desiree Lipka, LCSW, clinician coordinator for Solvista Health. “They really want to be done and go back to our normal lives, and we don’t see that happening.”

She said that from the initial onslaught of COVID-19, people have shifted to “being sick and tired of it,” and mental health professionals are seeing more people “angry and frustrated and wanting some sense of normalcy.” And now, as COVID-19 numbers are skyrocketing in the most recent surge, people are becoming more scared. Lipka said that is compounded by grief as more people experience the loss of friends and family.

As well, not having the traditional gathering for Thanksgiving is a form of grief for some. “I think people are really sad,” she said, “It’s a loss.”

Lipka said that some people are getting creative around their Thanksgiving plans with family Zoom calls and online parties. But she noted that the four-county region Solvista serves is considered rural or ‘frontier’, meaning that many people don’t have adequate internet service, and some have no service at all. And those people can be the hardest hit by the sense of isolation.

So what do we do to get through the upcoming holiday — to be thankful while not being able to do our always?

“We need to realize that at some point this will be over,” Lipka said. “There’s some hope out there (such as strong evidence a vaccine will be available in the coming months) and we need to grab onto the hope and say it’s going to get better — that right now it really stinks but it’s going to get better.

“Stop and take time for yourself,” she adds. Breathe. Realize it’s okay to not feel great.”

There is also professional help for those who are feeling the many stresses of COVID-19.

• Solvista recently became part of the Colorado Spirit program through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The program provides free COVID-19 mental health counseling and support, and it doesn’t require recipients to be enrolled with Solvista Health services. Contact 719-275-2351.

• Solvista is also rolling out Colorado Spirit support groups focused on loss and grief related to COVID-19. The Life Lessons group begins on Dec. 1 and explores loss that results in life changes, including isolation, job loss, financial issues, remote learning and the death of friends and loved ones, among many others. The open group will run every Tuesday from 11 a.m. to noon.

• The Healing Your Heart group begins Dec. 2 and is directed toward those who are grieving the death of a family member, loved one or friend. The closed group will meet Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to noon. Understanding Your Grief by Alan Wolfelt is the foundation for the group.

For information on either group, call Lana Leonard at 719-275-2351.

The Colorado Crisis Services Line is available 24/7: 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255.

Featured Image: Turkey, yes. Gatherings, no. Thanksgiving isn’t going to be the same this year – a sore point for people’s mental health. NeONBRAND/Unsplash