This holiday season, like so much else in 2020, is not going to feel normal and that has real mental health implications for all of us.
Christmas is my favorite day of the year. I look forward to it all year long. My friends call me either Mrs. Claus and the female Clark Griswald.
Ever since my mom died of cancer four years ago, I assumed the role of hostess of Christmas, and I take that job seriously, transforming my home into a winter wonderland in which Santa would feel right at home.
I’ve hosted about 12 people for Christmas in my Manhattan home – but sadly this year will be very different. My family and friends won’t be able to gather together this Christmas due of course to Covid. It’s just the exclamation mark on a bummer of an isolating year.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been personally impacted by Covid. If they haven’t had the virus, they know someone who has had it, or they are dealing with the psychological effects of it – the constant sense of dread, fear and sadness, as well as the feeling of not being in control and not knowing when this will be over. It feels in some way that we are all under house arrest.
We each have a responsibility to each other and our community to do our part to keep each other safe and slow the spread of the virus, but the psychological effects of social distancing are negatively impacting everyone. I personally am grappling with disappointment, sadness and grief, and I’m guessing you are too.
In fact between October 28 and November 9, 41.4% of U.S. adults surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, according to the CDC’s Household Pulse Survey. And while we can’t change the reality of what’s going on in the world right now, here are some ideas to combat holiday depression and make the upcoming days and weeks as okay as possible.
- It’s okay to not be okay. One of the fundamental rules for dealing with your emotions is to not push them away. Instead, acknowledge and feel them. Remember that it’s okay to not be okay. So if you’re disappointed about not being able to celebrate the holidays as you normally do, allow yourself be disappointed. But don’t wallow in it. Instead create a plan to make yourself feel better.
- Let it out. I find it very helpful to talk to others about how I feel when I’m upset as well as to write on my blog. It helps to clear my head. Find a few close friends who you trust and lean on them during this stressful time. Having a strong support network is essential right now.
- Take action. Try coping ahead – so making plans in advance for the days you anticipate will be difficult such as Christmas or New Year’s Eve. On that day you could host an ugly holiday sweater contest, a virtual holiday cookie decorating contest and definitely schedule a family FaceTime to virtually open gifts together.
- Find creative ways to connect. For many, the most important part of a holiday isn’t the actual holiday but rather the memories created on that day. Research supports the importance of physically interacting with others, so if it’s possible to safely see others in person this holiday season, do it, even if it’s just a socially distanced visit or walk outside. This is also a great opportunity to reconnect with those in your community. Invite a few neighbors to your backyard for a socially distant cup of hot chocolate or Irish coffee, or leave a plate of cookies and a holiday card on their stoop.
- Get moving. One of the simplest but most effective ways to boost your mental health is to take a short walk. Research shows light to moderate intensity exercise can quickly decrease stress and depression and anxiety, and boost your mood, especially if you walk outside.
- Create new traditions. If you had a specific vision for the holidays that is no longer possible, it can be hard to let go of that and face reality. To help with that process, incorporate a new and different holiday activity this year. For example, send care packages instead of gifts, or watch scary movies instead of holiday films.
- Go offline. Consider limiting your time on social media during the holidays so that you don’t get upset seeing others with their families or so you don’t give others a window into your world to criticize you if you do decide to see your family. Always remember that often what you see on social is sugar coated – no one’s life is perfect – trust me.
- Perform a good deed. One way to feel better about the weird holiday season is to something nice for someone else. By redirecting your attention away from negative thoughts and onto a good deed, such as volunteering at a food bank, creating care packages for those in need, making baked goods for those you love or sending prints of photos the past to special people in your life. These actions can preoccupy yourself and boost your mood.
- Set the mood. It’s important to make sure that your home environment is as welcoming and comfortable as possible especially since you’re spending so much time in it due to the pandemic. Maybe for you this means decorating your home for the holidays, which is something that I did even though I know I won’t be having a house full of people this year. Or maybe it’s buying some really nice candles, investing in nice sheets or listening to music that you find relaxing during the day. Make sure your home is your sanctuary.
- Be grateful. Research shows that thinking about the things for which you’re grateful before you go to bed can help you feel more relaxed. In addition, practicing gratitude can remind you that it’s still possible to find joy in your day-to-day life even when there’s also a lot of disappointment and stress in your life. You can take it one step further and set up a gratitude challenge – simply write down a few things for which you’re grateful every night during the holiday season.
- Embrace (not literally) everyone. When you see others in the course of your daily life, whether the cashier at the drug store, the neighbor walking their dog or the mailman, be friendly. Smile and ask them how their day is going. Research shows that these types of small encounters can increase happiness.
- Plan ahead. Research shows that making future plans can make you happier. Having things to which you can look forward is very helpful to get through this dark period. This is a tactic that is always worked really well for me. I am currently planning vacations for 2021 and some other exciting things that I can’t wait to share with you.
- Seek help. If find yourself unable to shake feelings of sadness, dread or anxiety, professional help may be necessary. Sometimes it’s just good to talk it out with someone who is a neutral party. Most insurance plans now cover mental health visits too.
- Know that this shall pass. Take comfort in the fact that we are all in the same boat, and this is only temporary. We will get through this and look back at this time as hopefully a period of growth and development of resilience and appreciation for all we have.
Stay safe and stay well – and happy holidays.