Surviving the winter | Editorial

As members of isolated communities that endure dark nights and grey skies for the first few months of the year, winter can be a challenging time to stay upbeat.

With most of our islands still shut down, socializing at a bare minimum and travel discouraged, this January was harder than ever. Being stuck at home is a bizarre combination of indulgently sinking into the comfort of pajama pants while simultaneously longing for the time when I could pop out to dinner with anyone I wanted.

Without the allure of a mid-February tropical trip to propel me through these cold days, I’ve turned to other avenues.

Before the pandemic, I made time for outside activities when I could fit them into my full schedule — and it was sporadic. Since last April, I’ve been part of a small group that hikes every week. The trail and the day may change, but we faithfully gather together to move our bodies, talk about our lives and rejoice in the beauty of this land and our friendships. Being accountable to each other means we make hiking together a priority.

The world of telehealth has opened up a wide array of possibilities for learning, growing and healing. I’ve been seeing a therapist online, and although I was pretty sure the screen would prevent real connection, that couldn’t be further from reality. I was also part of a seven-week therapeutic course with participants from Canada, Asia and the United States. It was gratifying to connect with people I would otherwise never have known.

Seeking online mental health resources has become the norm.

In January, four of the largest community behavioral health providers in Washington state, including Compass Health, which has a clinic on San Juan Island, announced a new partnership called Fourfront Contributor, an advocacy and leadership coalition that utilizes their collective size and expertise to improve the health of individuals, communities and the systems that serve them.

In addition to Compass, the member organizations are Comprehensive Healthcare, Frontier Behavioral Health and Sound. Serving more than 76,000 individuals, the Fourfront Contributor footprint spans from the Pacific Ocean to the Inland Northwest. In 2021, Fourfront Contributor will focus on advocating for legislative support of telehealth in behavioral healthcare delivery going forward.

Mobilized by the rapid adoption and innovation of telehealth during the pandemic and the positive impact on clients, Fourfront Contributor’s member CEOs recognized the importance of championing telehealth and its ability to ensure access to care. According to collective data, the four organizations saw a 3,700 percent increase in telehealth encounters and a nearly 10 percentage points decrease in no-shows and cancellations in 2020 alone due to the expansion of telehealth.

So many organizations — from mental health practices to meditation centers to performing arts venues — are providing weekly opportunities to join online offerings. Is there a topic or area of interest you’ve always dreamt of exploring? Now you can.

Conversely, you can help your mental health by making a conscious effort to take time away from your phone and computer. According to medical studies, heavy mobile phone usage may lead to physiological and psychological complications. Internet addiction is similar to drug addiction — only it involves behavior and not a substance. Constant cell phone usage can lead to depression, poor sleep, anxiety and stress.

Try putting your device in another room for a few hours. It’s shockingly refreshing to not think about technology for a period of time. Require everyone at the dinner table to put their phones somewhere else for the meal. Don’t look at your phone while having a conversation with someone — look into their eyes and stay engaged. Even if you connect with your phone for a moment, you are signaling to your loved ones (and yourself) that plugging into a device is more important than what they have to say.

Instead of scrolling on social media, I’ve become hooked on jigsaw puzzles. Using my brain in a very specific, new way and not checking my phone for an hour or two is a relief for my psyche.

Every night before falling asleep my husband and I talk about our favorite parts of the day. Recognizing the moments — significant or inconsequential — that gave us a spark of joy, is powerful to verbalize. I’m often surprised by my inability to pick just one. I wasn’t aware that so much of my day was blissful until I was tasked with truly considering it.

Spring is just about a month away. It will soon be time to get our hands in the dirt and feel the sun on our backs. Until then, we’ll take each day as it comes.