The holiday season is often considered “the most wonderful time of the year”. However, as we continue to face the coronavirus crisis, anxiety and stressors regarding health, future and finances are high. In addition, while the season has historically been a time for celebration, family, food and fun, it can be a time when we feel alone, disconnected or isolated, especially during the current pandemic. Some of us will not be able to get together and, this year in particular, the holidays will feel different. Given the uncertainty of the future, these added stressors have the potential to affect our sense of wellbeing and mental health this season.
It is in this spirit that we need to make our wellbeing a priority. Although not an exhaustive list, the following are some suggestions that individuals may use or consider as part of their coping toolkit as they navigate this unique holiday season:
I. Accept the things that we do not have control over:
- Be kind to yourself and accept the uncertainty that things are going to be different this year. Avoid dwelling on what you cannot control and focus on the things you can.
- Be patient with yourself - it takes time to manage feelings.
- Understand and validate your experiences (what you are feeling) as well as the causes and contributors to your stress
- Be mindful of what you are grateful for (keeping a gratitude journal can help improve one’s outlook).
- Be patient with those close to you – Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are. Be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they are feeling the effects of holiday stress, too.
II. Focus on the things you have control over.
1. Be Realistic.
- The holidays do not have to be perfect or as they were last year. Be open to creating new traditions. For example, if your adult children or other relatives can't come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or meet virtually on a video call (perhaps a virtual family quiz night). Even though your Christmas plans may look different this year, you can still find ways to celebrate.
2. Connect with Others.
Take time to talk throughout the holiday season. Try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat. Connect with friends and family. Also, it is perfectly normal to feel worried, scared or helpless during uncertain times and it is okay to share your concerns and accept support and assistance from others that you trust – doing so may help them too. If you cannot speak to someone you know or if doing so has not helped, perhaps professional assistance or a helpline may be appropriate (see below).
Providing emotional and practical support to others: Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. For example, consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend's home during the holidays. Or doing some baking for others.
3. Maintain Healthy Daily Routines.
- Limiting media consumption: Monitor excessive information regarding COVID-19. Be aware of how the information culture can produce undue stress, and adjust the time you spend reading news and social media as you see fit. When collecting information, remember what Sgt. Joe Friday said from the Dragnet television series, “Just the facts, ma’am”.
- Boundary setting with tasks and responsibilities. Be mindful of the amount of energy you have in your gas tank presently and prioritize tasks based on this. Also be aware of setting limits with others if their expectations or requests are more than you are able or reasonably willing to provide at present.
- Establishing healthy habits. In the long run, overindulgence negatively affects our emotional and physical well being. Make efforts to: Eat healthy meals and snacks (and treats in moderation). Make sure you get enough sleep and rest. Include regular physical activity in your daily routine (In lieu of gyms and fitness centres, people can take walks, or even pull out their old DVD and VHS workout tapes). Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
- Pick up a hobby. Discover a new pastime or take part in an activity that you enjoy. Art, sewing, baking, music, etc.
- Take a breather.Make some time for yourself. Take a break by yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress: Mindfulness/ meditations (Apps: Calm, Calm in the storm, or meditations found on YouTube). Practice yoga, relaxed breathing or progressive muscle relaxation exercises. Enjoy nature, and/ or stargazing. Listen to soothing music. Read a book
- Seek additional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, or unable to manage the stress of the holiday season. If these feelings persist, talk to your doctor, a mental health professional, or utilize a crisis support line. In Brandon and surrounding Westman area, the Mobile Crisis Services crisis line (24 hours) is 204-725-4411 or toll-free at 1-888-379-7699, for the north please call 1-866-332-3030. There are also a number of resources online from reputable sources, including: The Mayo Clinic; the province of Manitoba COVID-19- Care for Your Mental Health; and the Canadian Psychological Association. Or click here for Mental Health Resources for Adults provided by Prairie Mountain Health.
By Greg Gibson, Ph.D., C. Psych