The holiday season is upon us, and we are still amid the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the country. We continually hear from federal health officials that it is not a good idea to travel, nor is it smart to reunite for large family gatherings over the holidays. We are urged to stay home and find creative ways to connect with loved ones near and far.
As holiday decorations pop up, it can be a real challenge to maintain sound mental health. Adding to that is the stress of getting gifts sent so that they arrive on time when most delivery services are overwhelmed with packages from people who shop at home to avoid the general public in stores. It is equally hard to be apart from families and relatives, especially those who are older and need more protection from possible COVID-19 exposure.
Stress, sadness, and loneliness can build to where we feel despondent. Some people struggle with what mental health professionals call the “holiday blues.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines this as a time of high expectations, loneliness, and stress. It is usually a temporary time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. However, this blues period can last longer and possibly lead to clinical depression and/or anxiety.
However, there are many ways to protect your mental health and keep positive throughout this challenging time.
Spending the Holidays Home Alone
While it may sound lonely to consider spending the holidays home alone, there are some positive benefits to it. Consider:
- Use this time to pamper yourself physically and mentally. Block time out to take a walk outside and enjoy the outdoors. No matter what the climate is where you are, there is much to appreciate in nature, and this activity can boost your mood while getting a little exercise.
- Focus on how to make your home a positive, happy place for the holidays. Find some new decorations online and spruce up your surroundings. If you cook or bake or both, make something that reminds you of home or something new. Share it with those near to you.
- Listen to music that raises your spirits. Crank up the volume, and sing and dance to your favorite holiday songs or music.
- If you have pets, spend more time with them. Order gifts online for curbside pickup. Take the dog for a longer walk. Make your own “Fido with Santa” photos and share them with your loved ones.
- If you feel tired, take a nap. A 20-minute nap is recommended to help you feel refreshed again. Any time longer than that can make you feel overtired.
Family Gatherings – Health And Safety Ideas
Family gatherings should include only those who live in the same household, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends.
- Prepare traditional holiday dishes for those you love and miss, and deliver them in ways that avoid contact. If you decide to make something and mail it, put the item(s) in a plastic container, put the plastic container in a resealable plastic bag, and secure it tightly in a box.
- Host or join a virtual family gathering on Skype, Zoom, Facetime, or another virtual meeting forum. Create a fun and festive background behind you.
- The CDC notes that a family gathering and meal outdoors is a moderately risky activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you host this, try to space the seating a little farther apart.
What to Do If You Attend a Gathering
Despite all the advice about staying home and avoiding gatherings, it can be hard to do this sometimes. For those who absolutely cannot avoid attending a gathering, the suggestions below might be useful:
- If possible, spend as most time as possible outside. Wear a face mask over your mouth and nose when it is not possible to be 6 feet apart or when you’re not actively drinking and eating. If you are encouraged to not wear a face mask, kindly, respectfully explain that you would rather wear it to protect the others.
- Don’t share food from your plate with anyone.
- Make sure you know which cup or glass is yours. If possible, write your name on plastic cups. Bring something to signify that a wine glass or cocktail glass is yours. If you are not sure which glass is yours after putting it down, get a new glass or cup.
Preventing Holiday Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
The immediate present is the best time to put steps in place to prevent holiday stress, anxiety, and depression. If you start now, chances are your holidays might be less lonely, stressful, or sad.
The Mayo Clinic suggests:
- Recognize and acknowledge your feelings. It’s OK to feel sad and cry if you can’t be with your loved ones over the holidays. You can’t force yourself to be happy when you don’t feel happy.
- Find a way to connect with others. Call, text, meet online. Seek online opportunities to talk with people. Offer to volunteer for a charitable organization you support.
- Remain realistic about the holidays. Choose a few treasured holiday traditions and follow them. Avoid trying to make everything perfect. Just let the season flow as it is, and enjoy the happy moments when they come.
Simple Healthy Habits to Protect Your Mental Health
Are you working more than one job to make ends meet or to have some extra income? Is this stressing you out or making you feel depressed? It doesn’t have to. Below are some simple, healthy habits that will protect your mental health as you get through the holidays during quarantine.
- Eat healthily and eat often. Small, healthy meals and snacks will help maintain energy throughout the day.
- Stay hydrated. It is very easy to forget to drink water during hectic workdays, retail shifts, restaurant or bar hours, and other work situations. Take a mini-break, sit down, and drink some water. It really does relax you a bit and give you a little more energy to make it to the end.
- Get your rest. We said it above; a short nap can refresh and recharge you. Go to bed at regular times and be sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
- Add some exercise to your schedule. Take a short walk when time allows.
- Take a breather. Amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and feeling alone, taking time for yourself can be the best gift of all. Read a book, meditate, listen to relaxing music. Even 15 minutes of alone time can be all it takes to gain your perspective again.
The holiday season can be one of the most mentally distressing times for many people, and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is not helping. However, there are steps you can take now to make it less isolating. Communicate with loved ones and friends you can’t be with and find new, creative ways to meet safely.
A piece of advice from Nature.com that might certainly be helpful is this: “How we talk to ourselves during these challenging times can either provide a powerful buffer to these difficult circumstances or amplify our distress.” Keep the “holiday blues” at bay. Don’t let this seasonal disorder take over and become major depression, as NAMI writes.