Here we are coming up on nearly one year into COVID-19. Just over 11% of us are vaccinated against the virus as I write this, with potentially another 40-70% to go before we reach herd immunity.
It’s no understatement to say that this has been a challenging year. The first US-found COVID-19 case in January 2020 was followed by quarantine that began in mid-March. A summer of racial reckoning preempted a contentious election season, and nothing magically changed at midnight on New Year’s Eve, unfortunately. COVID death levels in the US have reached 460,000, and even with recent declines in cases, we continue to lose more people per day than we did at 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.
On a micro level, winter, especially, can be challenging. We get outside less, our vitamin D levels decrease, we miss the sunshine and the daylight. By February, a lot of us are ready for spring, and living in a pandemic only exacerbates this.
So how to cope? How to increase your mental health capital to come out on the other side?
One often underrated way to practice good self-care is with laughter. Regular, frequent, communal when possible. Laughter has long held positive associations of good feelings or stress relief, but last year two studies in particular were published that looked at laughter’s effects on alleviating physiological stress response and representing an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease.
Basically, laughter is good for us, associated with lower stress levels and possibly even increased longevity.
As we face down these next five weeks of winter, I encourage you to laugh more. I would be lying if I said Trevor Noah hasn’t helped me make it through this past year. Whether you play snarky games with loved ones (FaceTime and Zoom can be helpful with this if you live alone), stream SNL or comedians online, enjoy a funny show or podcast, or encounter humor through reading (hello, New Yorker cartoons!), find a reason to genuinely laugh each day.
Laughter doesn’t mean you aren’t taking current events seriously, that you don’t care about all the human beings we have lost in this pandemic, or that you have no personal struggles. It means you’re taking the time and space to practice hope.
In his poem Manifesto, activist-writer-farmer Wendell Berry writes, “Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful / Though you have considered all the facts.”
Joy is an act of resistance, a way to paint a picture of, and so create, a better world.
And if you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, that’s okay too, and you’re not alone. There are some excellent local therapists and agencies like Catholic Charities, Trilogy Recovery Community, and Comprehensive Mental Health available to meet within COVID safety guidelines, and there are also online resources like BetterHelp Counseling where you can seek support. Laughter can still be a part of your recovery, and you will come out on the other side.
Cari Honsinger holds her Precision Nutrition Level 1 certification and is a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer at the YMCA. She also works as a consultant at Trilogy Recovery Community. Find her on Instagram @sistersolsticecooks.