Dr Hazel Othello

‘Find the bright side’: Dr Hazel Othello

Christmas is upon us and COVID-19 is going to be here with us as well.

So said Dr Hazel Othello, Director, Mental Health Unit, Ministry of Health, as she shared some tips on how to combat COVID fatigue and stay mentally and physical safe during the Christmas season.

Speaking at the daily virtual COVID-19 update on Monday, Othello said: “How we think about something tends to affect how we approach it and how we experience it.

”If we think about Christmas in terms of what we can’t do, what we wouldn’t have, and what we cannot enjoy this year, we go into it upfront from a negative, pessimistic point of view and we’re likely to not do well depending on how we manage things.

“However, if we look at difficulties as challenges to overcome instead of obstacles that will overwhelm us, we can start to think about how we can overcome these challenges and come up with some strategies. So I want us to think about it from that point of view. This is a challenge and we have to overcome it.”

Othello said two of the key ingredients to staying safe is to be focused and creative.

“We have to think about why are we doing this, why are we giving up things we normally enjoy. We have to be focused on the fact that next year if all goes well, we will still be here to enjoy Christmas and our loved ones will also be here to enjoy Christmas.”

She said people should also be focused on the meaning of Christmas.

She noted that while the Christian community will be focusing on the religious aspect of Christmas, it is a multi-cultural event in Trinidad and Tobago, so at a wider level, we all think of Christmas as a time to share love and kindness, and express those emotions towards each other.

“It’s a time for community, a time for sharing, and it’s very important in the context of this Christmas that we maintain that, so that we remember if we care about our community we will do thinks that will keep our community safe. It’s not just about keeping me safe, it’s about keeping my community safe. Not just my elderly parents or grandparents but my neighbours, my friends, their parents and grandparents. If I care about the community then I will do the things that will keep everyone in the community safe.

“Another thing we can focus on is the fact that so many people are hurting.

“Sometimes when we take our mind off our personal challenges and focus on what other people are experiencing and what we can do to help them, it helps us. So let’s think about maybe a child who would be cheered up by a toy or a gift, or a family you know that is struggling at this time and you may be able to assist them in some way,” Othello said.

She said that while people may have done things to positively impact someone else’s life in the past, special attention should be given to that this year.

“If possible, do a little more than you normally do because we have a lot more hurting people this Christmas and we can all do a little bit to brighten their lives.”

On the creativity side of things, Othello recommended that activities such as movie nights, virtual games or family activities that involve each family member, would go a long way in keeping the immediate family together, keep them enjoying each other’s company and keeping everyone happy in spite of the fact that they can’t go from house to house, visiting in the way they normally would.

She stressed on the importance of people talking with each other and together, coming up with creative things to keep themselves occupied this Christmas, while noting that what may work for one family wouldn’t necessarily work for another.

“So have that conversation. Think about how you as a family are going to approach Christmas this year.”

She said in the same manner US voters were encouraged to plan their votes at their recent presidential election, people should their Christmas so that they’re not overwhelmed when the time comes and they’re not doing something they would normally do, because they would have already planned what they would be doing instead of that usual activity.

Othello said the idea of a Zoom get together with relatives living abroad is an excellent way to touch base with relatives one may not usually see, so it presents the opportunity to widen that circle using electronic media and incorporating other relatives one would not have seen for several Christmases.

“We may not be able to have the office party, we may not be able to have the staff lime. Clearly children are not going to be sitting on a Santa’s lap at the malls this year, but maybe we can have plexi-glass screens around Santa so that children can still see that visual of Santa, and get cheered up in that way.

“I want to encourage parents to do what they can to keep Christmas as normal as possible. Children have lost a lot of the things they’re used to and they’re adjusting. In order to help them to continue to adjust, try as much as possible to do the things they normally enjoy but do them safely.”

Othello encouraged parents to get their child involved in age appropriate activities such as assisting with the baking and decorating, so they’re not sitting there after school has closed thinking about what they would like to do but they cannot be doing.

“Fill that time with things they can enjoy so that they would still be happy throughout the season.

“And let us all remember that COVID-19 is not the gift we want to give this Christmas,” Othello said.

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