The smell of baked goods, gathering with loved ones and preparing and savoring delicious recipes are few things that come to mind when thinking about the holiday season. Family drama, delayed flights and loneliness are a few others.
The holidays have different meanings to different people. For some, it is a fun-filled time with many activities while for others, it is a time of year that can bring sadness, feelings of isolation, anxiety and unpleasant memories. Even those who have historically enjoyed and celebrated the holidays with energy and optimism may experience stress this holiday season due to the pandemic.
For many people, the holiday season will look undeniably different this year. As COVID-19 surges in most parts of the country, families are looking to celebrate in ways to keep everyone healthy. This break from tradition could cause emotional challenges while economic hardships, brought on by COVID-19 unemployment, may increase financial stress. These added stressors, in combination with the global pandemic, can lead to feelings of increased distress, uncertainty and depression.
Holiday blues are a temporary feeling around the festive season that can include:
• Increased fatigue /malaise,
• Excessive drinking or substance use,
• Change in appetite,
• Hopelessness, and
• Bad dreams/nightmares.
These feelings can be complicated and hard to deal with, but this does not mean your holiday season will be disappointing. Learning techniques to reframe your perspective and change your behavior can help ward off holiday blues under “normal” circumstances as well as during these unprecedented times.
Tips to prevent/manage holiday stress
• Prepare now. Talk with family and especially children about how the holidays may look and feel different this year. Discuss ways to safely and joyfully celebrate the holidays such as planning a virtual gathering, creating a new tradition, giving back or learning a new skill/craft.
• Embrace change. Resisting change only makes things more difficult. Do not reflect on how you “normally” celebrate, appreciate the right now. When you adjust and accept change you lessen its impact.
• Take care of yourself. Self-care means deliberately taking time to care for your mental, emotional and physical health. When practiced consistently, self-care can reduce stress, relieve uncomfortable emotions and improve overall health. Self-care activities can include exercise, journaling, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, taking a bubble bath or watching a favorite show. They are activities that make you feel happy or relaxed.
• Know yourself. We all have “buttons” and those buttons may be more easily accessible now than ever before. Recognize your triggers and have a plan to work through them such as walking away, taking deep breaths, listening to music or calling a friend who makes you smile.
• Track holiday spending. It is easy to get carried away and overspend during the holidays. Or maybe this year you cannot afford to celebrate the holidays like years past. Overspending can contribute to depression and anxiety during and post-holiday season, so it is important to be realistic and set spending limits.
• Loneliness. Loneliness is common during the holidays. Pre-COVID-19, one of the best ways to cope with loneliness was to seek out time with people such as visiting with friends, volunteering or going to church. Unfortunately, some of these in-person experiences have been impacted by the pandemic. However, several options that promote physically distancing such as phone calls, virtual chats and outdoor activities are still available.
• Limit your drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, it can contribute to feelings of depression. Excessive drinking can negatively alter your mood and heighten unpleasant emotions.
• Refrain from drug use. Drugs can lower your immune system response to fight infections and increase anxiety.
• Stay positive. Surround yourself with positive energy. Our minds are influenced by the information and people we let in. Spend time with people who lift you up and consume positive messages – music, books, shows, movies.
• Ask for help. Be open with people you trust, family, friends or mental health professional, tell them how you are feeling this holiday season.
Despite your best effort to keep your spirits up, you may still experience some of the symptoms listed above or others. If symptoms last more than two weeks, talk to your primary care provider or a mental/behavioral health provider in your community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phara L. Morame is a licensed clinical social worker with Healthcare Network.