While the holiday season is often associated with joy and celebration, it can still bring out feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness. And, this is particularly true in 2020 during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are ways to still make the most of the holidays while tending to your mental health.
1. It’s OK to not be OK.
“If you can’t be with loved ones, or if you feel sadness, anxiety or grief, realize that it’s normal. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings; you can talk to someone you trust or keep a journal,” says Dr. Diane Thompson, Medical Director of Centura Behavioral Health. “Don’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.”
2. Find healthy ways to manage your anxiety.
There are plenty of ways for people to stave off the holiday blues. “If you’re seeing a therapist, keep doing that. Don’t stop,” suggests Sean Connolly, an adult behavioral health specialist.
“A lot of people may turn to things like drugs and alcohol to try to mitigate some of their feelings, but it’s really important to remember that a lot of drugs and alcohol are also depressants alcohol is a depressant,” adds Connolly. “So even though you may be thinking ‘Oh, it’s legal and I know, I’m old enough to drink it,’ it’s still a depressant on your system. If you can be outside as much as possible, even if you have to be in your winter jacket, just being in the sunlight can really help.”
Other healthy ways to manage your anxiety would through meditation, prayer, practicing gratitude, or spending time with your dog or cat. And, more than ever, reduce your screen time to avoid doomscrolling.
3. Make time for your own health.
While things are certainly difficult this year, it can still be easy to get swept up in the holiday rush. But, that’s not an excuse to neglect your wellbeing.
Maintain your sleep schedule, eat healthy foods, and make time for physical activity. If you’re busy, think of creative ways around this. For example, you could do calf-rises when wrapping presents or folding the laundry. And, if you’re working from home, take frequent breaks throughout the day so that you can do easy exercises right from your desk.
4. Give back safely.
In addition to helping those in need, this is can also lift your spirits. And, there are plenty of ways that you can do this while protecting your own health.
For example, you could donate money to a local non-profit or deliver meals to seniors. You and your family could donate unused blankets or coats or bake cookies for frontline workers. Other suggestions would be organizing a fundraiser, donating blood, or adopting a pet from a shelter.
5. For the families of the more than 300,000 Americans grieving the loss of a loved one from COVID-19, make the decision about the holidays that feels right for you.
“Celebrating holidays for the first time without a loved one is unspeakably difficult,” states the psychologist team at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “For these families, not only has this pandemic taken the life of a loved one, the threat remains. That is, not only are they grieving, they are continuing to face the virus and its ongoing impact on a daily basis.”
“These families should not feel obligated to engage in holiday traditions as they have in the past,” they add. “In fact, it might feel better for some to not celebrate at all this year. Conversely, some families may choose to find special ways to honor and include the memory of their lost loved one. As with all family decisions, this one is highly personal.”
If you’re up for it emotionally, however, make sure to connect with friends and family -- especially with the elderly. It could be sending them a care package or a quick phone call. You could also use FaceTime or Zoom to plan something fun, like a game night, or watch everyone open presents.