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Tips for dealing with mental health stress as another pandemic year comes to an end

Darryl Webster has been a social worker for 30 years and battled his own mental health struggles. Now, he's helping kids and adults cope.

WASHINGTON — As people think about New Year's resolutions with COVID-19 cases on the rise, many are focusing on mental health. A veteran social worker offers tips to find inner peace in 2022.

Many were hoping 2022 would be the light at the end of this long, COVID-filled tunnel. But, right now, the omicron variant is causing a rise in cases throughout the DMV.

Continued isolation and uncertainty is again putting stress on people's mental health.

Darryl Webster, who has been a social worker for 30 years and also serves as a therapist, has been helping DCPS students process trauma for years. Lately, he's been taking on more adult clients dealing with mental health issues, precipitated by the pandemic.

“I kind of use the metaphor of a circuit breaker in the house. When the circuit breaker has too much power on the line and is overwhelming the circuit breaker just shuts off, and all the lights go off," Webster said. "Well, our brains kind of operate like that. When we get so much stress overwhelming our brains, our brains kind of shut us down.”

RELATED: Virginia free clinics seeing uptick in patient demand as COVID-19 cases increase

Webster uses his own experience to help clients see there's a way forward.

“In my 20s, I struggled with anxiety disorders and depression. I had pretty much every anxiety disorder you can name --  agoraphobia, panic attack, social anxiety disorder, a couple of major depression disorder," he said. "And I really struggled to find my way.”

A lot have kids have struggled to do the same recently.

At the beginning of December, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory urging governments and families alike to address the youth mental health crisis.

He said that suicide rates for young people aged 10 to 24 have been rising over the last decade, and early estimates show 6,600 suicide deaths in this age group in 2020.

“One thing I've learned is we have to control the controllables," Webster said. "And what we can control is our mindset.”

He shared some advice to improve your mindset in the new year:

  • Be present -- don't focus on the past or future.
  • Find one thing to be grateful for every day.
  • Try yoga or deep breathing to relax and re-center.
  • Parents -- be careful about passing your anxiety onto your kids. Pay attention to any changes in their behaviors.

“2022 is a new year, and it's a new time for new beginnings," he said.

Webster also said our bodies are not designed to handle stress for this long, so it makes sense to not feel okay.

If you need help, you can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Be aware -- that number is changing to 988 by July 2022, because of new federal rules.

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