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COVID-19 and Mental Health: Coping with a Stressful Holiday Season

Here’s how to tackle holiday stress during COVID-19.

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Although people tend to think of the holidays as a time of celebration, some people find them isolating, disappointing, or stressful. Factors like travel, budgeting, high expectations, and family conflict can all cause stress, leading to what some people call the “holiday blues.” Unfortunately, holiday stress during COVID-19 may be extra challenging for some.

COVID-19 and the Holidays

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had a major impact on holiday celebrations. In a normal year, families might meet up with uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandchildren from around the country to celebrate. In 2020, however, experts recommend celebrating only with the people in your household.

As a result, you may not get to spend the day with your favorite cousin (at least in person). In fact, if you live alone, it might even mean you spend the holiday by yourself. Things like this may naturally cause feelings of loneliness or disappointment, especially if one is already prone to the holiday blues.

To make it worse, many people are now feeling increased stress from the pandemic alone. As case numbers rise, you may worry more about your family’s safety. This may be especially difficult if your family members are eschewing social distancing guidelines or attending holiday events in spite of recommendations. Family members might even pressure you to attend their parties, or guilt you for saying no.

In other words, holiday stress during COVID-19 may be worse than usual. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an action plan for how to manage that stress and cope with the unusual holiday season.

Managing Holiday Stress During COVID-19

Holiday stress is common, but there are ways to deal with it. These tips might ease holiday stress during COVID-19:

1. Talk to a therapist

One of the best things you can do to cope with stress or depression is to talk to a therapist. Mental health professionals can teach you ways to relieve stress and cope with negative thoughts, such as journaling and meditation.

2. Embrace the opportunity for new traditions

Your knee-jerk reaction to the 2020 holiday season might be a sense of loss. You might grieve the loss of certain traditions or the chance to see your extended family.

While this can definitely be difficult, it may help to view this holiday season as a “clean slate” that you can fill with your ideal activities. If you never liked watching football with your family, you can watch your favorite holiday movie instead. Your uncle used to bring under-seasoned potatoes? Now you can make the potatoes yourself, or go non-traditional and make pizza instead.

3. Don’t stray too much from your normal routine

For some people, it helps to treat holidays like a regular day. As much as possible, stick to your normal sleep schedule, diet, and exercise routine. This sense of normalcy might be a source of comfort on a stressful day.

4. Limit alcohol and drug use

Sure, holidays may remind you of mulled wine, spiked cider, and eggnog. Holidays are often a time when people let loose and drink more than usual. However, substances may actually worsen depression and anxiety. For this reason, it may help to skip the boozy beverages this year. (Check out these holiday mocktails instead.)

5. Find safe ways to connect with others

Social distancing is wise, but emotional distancing is dangerous. Make use of phone calls and video chats so you can still spend the day with people you care about. This might be your family, or it might be close friends who make up your "chosen family."

It’s okay if you’re feeling more tension and dread than comfort and joy this holiday season. The important thing is to reach out for help and not suffer alone. Talk to a therapist, doctor, or loved one for help with the holidays.