Managing the holidays and a pandemic


December 17, 2020

It’s the most wonderful time of the year….maybe. For many, the holidays bring added stress along with the expected cheer and joy of the season. Do you usually enjoy this time of year? Are holidays typically stressful for you? We know there are often many different and sometimes conflicting emotions, feelings and reactions when it comes to the holidays. Unfortunately, this time of year can be especially difficult for those already managing mental health concerns, as issues typically tend to rise around this time. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their condition worse. So what do we do? How do we manage and get through this time, especially when this year is like no other? For many, the holidays look exceptionally different this year. (Click here for a list of CDC recommendations on holiday celebrations and small gatherings.) It’s important to know and watch for signs of stress. Stress is normal, but too much of it can cause health problems. Below are some of the warning signs for stress:

  • Feeling on edge
  • Lacking energy
  • Eating more or less
  • Being more emotional
  • Increase in alcohol or drug use to relieve stress
  • Change in sleeping patterns (more or less sleep)
  • Tension in your body
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Poor judgement
  • Racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Nervous habits, such as nail biting or pacing

If you notice an increase in the behaviors, there are several different ways to help manage and deal with the stress that may be causing them.  Find the right strategy for taking care of yourself is key to increasing the positive experiences this holiday season.  Some ways to take care of yourself during the holidays are listed below:

  • Decide what kind of holiday you want: there are no rules that holidays have to be celebrated or handled a certain way.
  • Acknowledge your feelings, don’t try to push them away: bring awareness to how you are feeling, whether its joyful or down, and know that either, both or other feelings are ok.
  • Set aside your differences: many gathering often have conflict due to conflicting views. Take the time to agree to disagree, rather than develop or engage in conflict with others. Know your boundaries and what you are and are not comfortable discussing and know that it is okay to set and hold those boundaries.
  • Be present in the moment: don’t worry about the past or the future. Just be where you are.
  • Be realistic: many of us get stressed because there are high expectations of what holidays, family, celebrations, and homes should look and feel like at this time of year. Expectations such as places to be, people to see, and gifts to get can add to stress. Make this year about spending time with those you care about, in a way you are comfortable with. Whether it’s in person or virtual, ensure that your boundaries are not being invaded
  • Think about your values: what is truly important to you during this holiday season? Focus on what matters most
  • Take time for yourself. No really! Many of us are so focused on others right now, and we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Do a small activity you enjoy such as taking a bath or stopping and getting a cup of coffee at your favorite spot. It is just as important to take time to recharge your energy level.
  • Understand that this year may not be the same: many of our lives have been turned every which way imaginable. Set a realistic budget for yourself, make lists to ensure you aren’t overspending.
  • Seek help if you need it: it is always okay to reach out and talk to someone, whether it be a family member, friend, or professional.

Finally, let’s plan to kick these COVID holiday blues and make this the best we can.

If you need additional support, there are organizations and helplines that are there and will be able to provide support.

Please see below for resources and support:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP

NAMI HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAME (6264)

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor

Written by: Meaghan Warner, LCSW-S