Spreading Holiday Cheer & Surviving Stress Over Covid Christmas
Holidays can be a stressful time, normally but this year will be unlike any holiday we have ever experienced before. As cases of Covid 19 continue to rise, many of the traditional holiday festivities, photos with Santa, parades, Christmas concerts and holiday feasts have been canceled or restricted.
Christmas should be a joyous time full of laughter, love, friends and family. But with social distancing restrictions in place, many of us will be feeling isolated, lonely and stressed this holiday.
Coronavirus has robbed us of many things, but can be especially hard for those suffering from mental illness. It can be even tougher during the holidays! The holidays are already a stressful time, with social gatherings, financial pressure and darker, colder weather!
Be a little kinder this holiday season and remember people are dealing with loss, are worried about the future, and missing family and friends! Us parents are over here struggling to hold it together while trying to keep up with holidays traditions for little ones. It’s a tough time for all.
Spread Holiday Cheer, Not Coronavirus
Safety should always be top priority. These are only suggestions. Don’t do anything that puts your or your family at risk this season.
Spread Holiday Cheer, Not Coronavirus
- Send personalized Christmas cards
- Organize a family Zoom party
- Take a walk to see the lights in your neighborhood
- Check in with friends and family often, especially those who are alone
- Send special care packages to those who are feeling down over the holidays
- Check in with yourself. How are you coping with this Christmas?
- Talk to your children about how they feel this holiday
- Host a virtual Ugly Christmas sweater party
- Do a random act of kindness
- Keep up with Christmas traditions the best that you can
If you find yourself having a hard time this year, you’re not alone. While many doctors are sharing tips on how to protect yourself physically from the virus this holiday, it’s important to also protect your mental health!
I interviewed Dr Jasleen Chhatwal, Chief Medical Officer for Arizona’s famed mental health treatment facility- Sierra Tucson, about how to cope with stress, anxiety and depression this holiday unlike any we have ever experienced before.
Mental Health Tips For A Covid Christmas
How does isolation impact mental health?
Isolation is an abnormal state for humans. Evolutionarily, we are tribal and need our tribe to connect, communicate and cohabit. An exceedingly solitary existence causes an increase in stress hormone release. Isolated individuals can hence become hyper vigilant, on high alert for rejection, and have more negative interactions with others furthering the feeling of loneliness. Downstream consequences include depression, anxiety disorders, lowered immunity, heart disease and even early mortality.
How does a pandemic affect mental health?
Pandemics are a rare phenomenon and hence not something that can be studied reliably. This pandemic has caused an increase and stress and anxiety, especially pertaining to health and longevity. It has challenged our way of life, bringing us face to face with the fact with our mortality. Building on climate centric conversations, the pandemic has shown how our current lifestyle maybe unsustainable for many unserved and underprivileged communities. Those with mental illness, especially severe mental illness are noted to be disproportionately impacted.
After a long pandemic, and the constant worry of lockdown looming over us, how can we stay strong and continue to look ahead to ‘normal’ again?
Mental health is akin to physical health in as much as there are both environmental and genetic factors at play. Although the genetic factors that may predispose to mental illness are harder to impact; it helps to shift focus to environmental factors that are in a person’s sphere of influence.
I like to consider the idea of a mental health gym – developing a routine that helps to build mental wellness and resilience; akin to physical health gyms that many frequent.
Learning or practicing a new skill can also be an enjoyable as well as wellness enhancing task. When we engage in an activity that is novel for us, our brain uses greater attention thus helping move away from worrying or rumination.
How can we prepare mentally, for a coronavirus Christmas?
In mental health circles, we know that the holidays are a stressful time each year. There are high expectations, family obligations and fiscal/financial stress. This year we have the opportunity to reinvent the holidays, discovering their true spirit and finding new ways to honor the season.
What type of support is there for people struggling this holiday season?
Support groups run through the holiday season, most meeting daily virtually to support their patrons. These can also be a place to find connection with those who may have walked at least a few steps in your shoes.
Peer support groups are often specific to the condition with which you are struggling.
There are always professionals available to help. You can reach out to your psychiatrist, therapist or primary care physician. Crisis centers and emergency rooms are the fastest way to get support in maintaining safety in behavior and prevent suicide.
What can we do to maintain our mental health over the holidays and after the holidays, when stress and depression are typically highest?
Make it a goal to set up virtual gatherings with your loved ones during the holiday time; giving them your most precious resources – time and attention.
Depression can definitely sneak up on us. Taking stock and doing regular check in with loved ones can be important to staying aware about our and their mental state. Change in behavior can be an important sign: social withdrawal, low energy, reduced interest, reduced appetite can all signal depression.
Self Care Check In
Questions to ask yourself:
What am I feeling?
If I’m feeling down, how can I channel this negative feeling in a positive direction?
Anger towards those not social distancing can be used as energy to fuel a social media education campaign.
Worry about homeless populations in your community can increase the drive to volunteer or support a non-profit.
Many platforms are providing free courses to learn new subject matter and skills. Others are providing free reading materials or audiobooks to enhance knowledge and provide reprieve.
Exercise classes can be streamed for ways to stay fit while at home. If you have a few pots or some open soil in a backyard, growing herbs or vegetables may provide a sense of accomplishment.
Baking and cooking skills can be developed with the hundreds of recipes and cookbooks available online.
New learning is an important way to intentionally evolve our brains, enhancing neuroplasticity.
And finally, starting a mindfulness or meditation practice at the current time may help not only by developing a new healthy skill that improves brain functioning, it can also provide much needed emotional cushion at a time that our world needs equanimity.
Covid Self Care Checklist
The path is ours to choose. Let’s choose it intentionally.
- Recognize – your body’s signals that indicate you may be depressed. This can be done in the form of a daily check in, noting a stooped posture, lack of energy, lack of interest.
- Understand – the effects this mental state may be having on your emotional, physical and social health.
- Develop – a few high quality relationships. One or two relationships where we feel understood may be protective as long as you can confide in them and they can confide in you.
- Dedicate – time for your well being. Often we prioritize the needs of others over our own in the short term, losing out on self care and resilience over time.
- Give back – to a mission/purpose bigger than yourself to develop connectedness with the larger community of humans.