Across America, people are wondering what the holidays will be like as pandemic-related restrictions on traveling and gathering drag on. Mental health experts worry about how adults and children will cope when normal ways of celebrating are curtailed.
About two-thirds of American parents are worried about the pandemic impacting the mental health of their children, according to a recent survey from Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
The holidays are already a time when many people struggle to feel happy and joyful amid the festivities going on around them. This year many families and individuals are coping with feelings of grief after losing a loved one to the pandemic or other causes.
It’s always hard to face the first holiday without a beloved family member or friend. It will be even more challenging this year as many people choose to stay home and gather only with those in their households, especially for those who live alone.
Even during the best of times, the holidays can be stressful and disruptive to your body, your emotions, and your routines. So how can we manage feelings of stress, isolation, and loneliness this year during holidays marred by a global crisis?
This year, it’s more important than ever to take steps to guard your emotional, mental, and physical health. Here are a few ideas to help make your holidays joyful in spite of the pandemic:
1. Decide ahead to be flexible about your expectations. This year, this means being open to new ideas when it comes to planning how to celebrate. Many people will be struggling with disappointment over canceled plans to travel and gather with family. Be open to new ideas, and look for ways to spread joy where you live.
2. Be aware of what your body needs. This includes healthy food, plenty of water, rest, and exercise. Don’t throw your routines out the window just because of the holidays. Find ways to exercise and eat healthy, including plenty of vegetables. Going for walks outdoors, weather permitting, is a great way to reset your mood and perhaps catch up with neighbors. Avoid binging on sugary desserts, and limit yourself to a few treats. You’ll feel better about yourself if you’re taking care of your body!
3. Decide to take care of yourself emotionally. You may need specific things such as the emotional support of a spouse, a long phone call with a friend, or even just some time alone. Decide how busy you want to be with shopping, decorating, and other holiday responsibilities. Pace yourself and stay in your comfort zone
4. Communicate with love. If you’re feeling stressed about family interactions, step outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. This is particularly a good idea for families who have been cooped up together at home for weeks or months. Be kind and patient with everyone — including yourself!
5. Reach out to friends. Even in times of social distancing you can stay in touch with friends and loved ones by phone or video chat. You may even find you can connect more deeply in a one-on-one conversation than you can in a group. Make plans in advance to get in touch with those you care about, so you’ll have things to look forward to.
6. Take time to set goals and plan for the New Year. Many of us tend to set big, far-reaching goals. These can be exciting and motivating, but they can also feel overwhelming at times. Make a plan for how you will realistically accomplish the goals on your list. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, for instance, set a completion date and strive to meet smaller milestones along the way.
7. Give thanks for all that is good in your life. We have lived through an enormously difficult year with social and economic hardships wrought by the pandemic, a bitter election, and racial and political division. Some of us have also faced great personal losses. Focusing on gratitude, and what we have gained through difficult times, will make us stronger and more resilient.
When we think about what is good in our lives, we create joy. Counting our blessings literally generates the energetic frequencies that can lift us up and encourage those around us. Gratitude can strengthen us through times of trial, and gives us hope and joy we can spread to others.
This Christmas season, may you find many blessings along with joy, hope, and strength to see you through the year to come.
By Dr. Bradley Nelson