Experiencing the Holidays, Pandemic-Style
“It is okay not to be okay during the holidays.” We hear that from the health and wellness gurus and many of us have to remind ourselves of that every year, and, well, this year that alarm is sounding at max volume. The holidays can be highly stressful under the best of circumstances. We know that this year has been difficult and draining and has had a dramatic, negative impact our nation’s mental health (In the latest survey from the American Psychological Association, 8 in 10 said the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life). We know that the holidays will look extremely different this year. We do not know how we will feel going through them, pandemic-style.
People experience a wide range of emotions over the holidays. For some, it’s a time of joy, celebration, family, and warmth. The holidays can be an especially unhealthy time for people struggling with mental health, addiction, or substance use disorders. For many, the holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. An, with COVID-19 spreading in our communities, we may be feeling additional stress or sadness, may be missing loved ones we have lost or cannot be with for other reasons, or may be worrying about our and our loved ones’ health.
The truth is that some people are mentally, emotionally, and physically struggling during this time. You are not alone!
When stress is at its peak, it is hard to stop and regroup. Being realistic, planning ahead, and seeking support can help ward off stress and depression. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place by:
- Acknowledging your feelings.Realize that it is normal to feel sadness and grief. It is okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it is the holiday season.
- Reaching out.Seek out friends, family members, and community, religious, or other social events or communities. They can offer support and companionship with a text, a call, or facetime.
- Being realistic. ‘Perfect’ holidays, strictly following family traditions, make for great romantic comedies. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate. Think about changing your family traditions to adapt to social distancing (why not have a virtual ugly-holiday sweater contest… that would be an awesome video call picture).
- Setting aside differences.Try to accept family members and friends as they are. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others are or become upset or distressed.
- Planning ahead.Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
- Establishing and maintaining safety boundaries. Do your best to follow the CDC’s recommendations when organizing a gathering at your home (The CDC lists and provides examples of lower, moderate, and higher risk activities). Have the hard conversations with friends and families about the risks you are or are not willing to take with your and your family’s health and safety this year. The goal is not to have a debate about the validity of research and science; it is about taking a stance of agreeing to disagree but setting your own personal boundaries.
- Not abandoning healthy habits.Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt: eat healthy meals; get plenty of sleep; include regular physical activity in your routine; and be aware of how the information culture can produce undue stress (yes, limit social media and news).
- Taking a breather.Make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.
- Seeking professional help if you need it.Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor, VJLAP, or a mental health professional.
This holiday season, make it the year that you not only survive the holidays, but the one in which you thrive. Rather than giving into the fantasy of the exuberantly festive season, be kind to yourself. Compassion is really important, both for others and for yourself. It is okay if your holiday looks different from a Hallmark commercial. It is also okay to create new memories, to let go of old traditions, and create new ones. And it is okay not to be okay. Just reach out and be vulnerable. VJLAP is here is you want to talk.
CDC Resources: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html