November 26, 2020
How to Manage Your Mental Health During a Challenging Holiday Season

This is the time of year that many of us are usually worrying about shopping, baking, gatherings and the persistent checklist of demands that the holiday season brings. Many families use these last weeks of the year to reconnect their sense of community and togetherness, especially with family and friends who live at a distance.

This year has been a completely different track. With the holiday season upon us and all its usual activities such as family gatherings, holiday parties and shopping, are being considered a health risk. We are all having to pivot our attention and energy. Yet emotional fatigue plagues many of us and has become almost a second skin. Or more like a that we want to take off but can’t.

This year we are experiencing a different type of stress: that of uncertainty, fear and loss of routine and tradition. This combined with the generalized anxiety many of us share as the world around us goes through significant changes as well: elections, racial strife and more hurricanes than ever recorded!

Particularly hard hit are young adults. One survey from the CDC shows that about 44% of 18-29 year olds reported symptoms of anxiety or depression (CDC Household Pulse Survey Sept 2020). Many of this age group may be away from home for the first time and had not expected to be alone during the holidays.

So how do we deal with the “loss” of the holidays this year?

Keep a “one day at a time” approach. Mindset is foremost. Projecting into the future only tends to increase our anxiety as we fall into the what if’s.

Keep a “glass half full” perspective. Yes, it has been a challenging year, however, the emphasis on staying away this year so that we can be together next year may be a perspective that can help keep us grounded.

Identify what you are feeling. We tend to shy away from focusing on the “bad” feelings. Yet they exist right alongside the “good” feelings. Ignoring them only tends to boomerang back at us when we least expect it. All feelings provide information about and for us.  Spend some time identifying what you’re feeling by journaling, talking with a friend or sitting quietly. Once you know what you are dealing with, you can plan for it.

Acknowledge your losses. Celebrations are not felt the same way by all. This year you may have experienced more losses than usual:  job, friends, leisure time, sense of security. Understand that grieving is a natural and healthy part of living.

Practice gratitude. There is always some kind of a silver lining. Sometimes we have to look harder than other times, yet it is there! For example, this year’s rushing around can be replaced with mindful walks and talks. Noticing the little things on a daily basis is helpful, like when your favorite song plays on the radio at just the right moment.

Don’t idealize your usual holiday plans. When in chaos, it is natural to become nostalgic for the past. Remember that regular holiday times include a mixture of both joy and frustration: seeing family and friends combined with long flight delays or having dinner with family you don’t like. You may be giving up some of your favorite holiday traditions, but also leaving some stress behind!

Remember the kiddos. Children may not understand the restrictions and needed precautions. They observe their parents for guidance on how to react to situations. So, like on the airplanes, put your oxygen mask on first! Then help your kids by talking to them about the differences this year and find ways to make special moments together anyway. What family traditions do you have that you can still do this year?

Get creative. We may not think we are “creative” however we all have a talent, some more hidden than others, but we have talents. The key is to look for it! Use resources such as friends, family, teachers and Google to inspire you to create memories: video chatting, game nights, holiday gift exchanges (either virtual or snail mail), pie or baking contest over Zoom (encourage loving competition!) Remind family and friends that we are looking for ideas on how to stay together while physically apart!

What is truly important during this time is to talk with each other to find and create different ways to celebrate the traditions, connections and reasons for the season! Maybe even create new ones that we may want to continue later on.

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