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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.
It’s common to feel stressed and sad occasionally around the winter holidays. In most cases, those feelings are the result of having too many obligations, expenses or even expectations of what the holidays should bring. Sometimes, grief or loneliness feels extra hard. This year, many people will feel a unique holiday stressor from COVID-19, as we cancel traditional celebrations and gatherings to help protect each other’s health.
There’s no question that this holiday season will be different for all of us. But simple steps can go a long way to help you and your loved ones find peace and joy and minimize negative feelings over the holiday period.
1. Look for silver linings.
Even during a pandemic, you may be experiencing a few temporary changes to your normal life that you feel good about. Take a moment to appreciate them! Maybe your schedule is more manageable, with less travel required or fewer big meals to prepare. Maybe you’re enjoying a less commercial holiday season, realizing some savings on going-out expenses, or appreciating the added flexibility or family time you get from working from home.
I feel thankful for my job, and for the lighter traffic and cleaner air around the region with fewer cars on the road. Focusing on things you’re grateful for can help lift your mood and brighten your outlook.
2. Choose healthier ways to deal with the blues.
Anecdotally, alcohol consumption is way up in 2020, as is screen time. Approach both of these with caution, because too much of either can perpetuate feelings of sadness and anxiety. To help beat the blues, I often suggest finding ways to be active outdoors.
Think about activities where you can stay safely separated, like kayaking, biking, hiking or camping. Or just get out for a daytime stroll or dog walk each day. Movement and sunshine are proven mood boosters. Also consider setting a limit to your daily intake of news and social media. Both share an excess of disaster and dismay and can increase feelings of anxiety.
3. Create joy by finding new ways to celebrate and “give” this year.
In-person visits and even lots of purchased gifts may be traditions you need to sacrifice this season. Think about ways you can make the holidays bright for yourself and others with simpler gifts and especially acts of unexpected kindness. Print and share photos or family recipes. Write personal letters. Shovel a sidewalk. Use video chats or phone calls to catch up with family and friends. And schedule some special one-on-one time with loved ones at home. Simple acts like these can bring joy as well as treasured new memories.
Also, make this the year you refuse to do too much. Recruit your household members in some of the chores and feel good about gently saying “no” to obligations that trigger dread instead of delight. If you feel anxious that you’ll be letting people down, announce your plans to keep things simple and safe for everyone this year—because you care about them.
The holidays will look different for many this year. Dr. Elspeth Ritchie has some simple steps to help you and your loved ones minimize negative feelings and find your own joy over this holiday period. @MedStarWHC via https://bit.ly/3nCsfEo.
4. Put things in perspective.
Sacrifices can be hard to embrace and feel good about, but history shows that we’re tremendously resilient in difficult times. Sometimes it helps to consider other generations that faced even tougher holiday seasons. I often think about families during World War II, when many soldiers and their families had no way to connect or be certain of each other’s health and safety. Many people feared they might never see each other again because of the uncontrollable dangers at hand.
Today, for most of us, the blues and sacrifices of this holiday season will be temporary. The promise of a vaccine on the horizon and finding alternate ways to celebrate and connect with each other are positives worth focusing on over the next few months. Things may not be ideal, but they can be better managed by choosing to change the way we think about them, and by taking action to control those that we know give us stress or anxiety.
5. Talk it out.
If feelings of anxiety or depression seem impossible to shake this holiday season, don’t keep them to yourself. Turn to a friend or other trusted person you feel comfortable talking to. Or mention it when you notice these signs in others (“You don’t seem like yourself lately. How is everything going?”). A simple conversation can open the door and allow you or a loved one to better weather the blues.
If anxiety or depression interfere with your home or work life, professional counseling may be worth considering. Via telehealth appointments, our Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic at MedStar Washington Hospital Center offers counseling services and can also review medication options with you. If you find yourself experiencing suicidal feelings, please seek help from a professional or come to the Emergency Department at the Hospital Center.
Another excellent resource for grief and trauma counseling and for support groups that help both adults and children is the non-profit Wendt Center for Loss and Healing in Washington, DC.
This holiday season, unique challenges are definitely in store for all of us. I hope these tips will help you find positive ways to manage them and also inspire you to be extra kind to yourself and to others. By caring for each other, we can help protect each other’s mental and physical health in the winter months to come.