The much-anticipated new year has finally arrived. There’s no doubt that 2020 will long be remembered as a year of unimaginable illness, loss and grief as well as unprecedented loneliness, tragedy, chaos and fear.

We turned to Melanie Watts, LifeSkills’ director of community engagement, to provide us with some tools that might come in handy as we attempt to shift gears and shake off some of the bad habits and negative thought patterns we may have established during the past 10 months. In other words, we asked her to help guide us as we strive to move forward in an emotionally healthy way.

“Early on, since the initial discovery and rapid spread of the coronavirus, I made a conscious decision to try to maintain a positive attitude,” Watts said. “I’m not saying it was easy, because it was not. But I decided that since everything around me was pretty much spinning wildly out of control, I would focus on what was actually within my capacity to control – how I spend my time, how I behave, what I think about, what I allow to enter my environment from the outside and how I react to whatever is happening around me. Basically, I chose to take care of the things I knew I had the ability to take care of.”

Watts said she never was one to establish new year’s resolutions, but the pandemic made her realize that she could only start with herself – first and foremost.

“Basically, I decided to make the most of the extra down time created by the pandemic to work on making some improvements that I would feel good about,” Watts said.

Here are some tips she discovered along the way that might help those who may be having a hard time figuring out where to begin:

• Start with yourself. Since we truly have zero control over anything or anyone, we can only start with ourselves. Keep in mind that you might already be doing all you can just to get through each day. And that is totally OK. Everyone is different, and each person needs to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

• Make a list of things you’d like to work on or accomplish, no matter how trivial. Be flexible. This list isn’t set in stone and can change as time passes.

• Be kind, gentle and forgiving with yourself. Let your inner voice be one that praises you and builds you up, not one that belittles or offends you. What words would you use to comfort or encourage your best friend? These are the same messages you should be saying to yourself. Give yourself a little grace.

• Control what you allow to come into your mind. Disentangle yourself from negative interactions, whether they be in person, over the phone or online. It is OK to simply disconnect from communications that upset you or make you feel bad.

• Turn off the TV if it is adding to your anxiety. Don’t let the news consume you. Refuse to absorb it. Remove disruptive news alerts from your phone or computer.

• People are extra anxious and unhappy. This has been a year of extreme tension and unrest. Try to keep this in mind and be intentionally kind when interacting with others. Focus on what we have in common, rather than on what divides us.

• Frequently remind yourself of what you DO have. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way. There are so many things to be grateful for. Count even the smallest, easily overlooked things that we take for granted. Try writing down three things you are thankful for each day.

• We only have a limited amount of energy to spend each day. Try putting it into positive endeavors and things that will make you feel good about yourself.

• Remember, we are going to get through this. Think of all the changes and hurdles we’ve already overcome.

• There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Science has created vaccines that will help us fight against this pandemic. Take comfort in the knowledge that help is on the way.

Another key message Watts emphasized is that LifeSkills is still here and eager to assist those who need help in the areas of mental health, substance use and developmental disabilities. Services are currently being conducted via telehealth as well as through phone calls. Professionals are also seeing people in service locations, as directed by federal safety recommendations.

In Warren County, one new community resource is actually the result of some of the challenges that were brought to light due to COVID-19.

Cameron Scharlow, intake and community outreach coordinator for LifeSkills Developmental Services, has created a pocket-sized card with an easily-accessible list of community resources, addresses and phone numbers.

“It’s just a small thing, but I wanted people to know exactly where they could go for help,” Scharlow said. “I also wanted professionals, like law enforcement officers and other community leaders, to be able to use this card to quickly and easily locate resources to address the many needs that exist right now.”

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office and Bowling Green Police Department have already gotten a supply of resource cards to use and distribute, and some local churches have received cards to hand out, as well. They are also available at the front desk of LifeSkills office at 380 Suwannee Trail Street in Bowling Green for those who would like to pick some up.

Scharlow said she plans for nonprofit organizations to receive a supply of cards in January. She also encourages agencies, churches or companies to contact her at 270-901-5000, ext. 1326, to request some cards.

– Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit, behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky in three main areas: mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities. Her column appears monthly.

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