The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed many social constructs that we’ve taken for granted—including face-to-face interactions, feeling safe, and traveling around the holidays. In this new normal, many might be feeling “compassion fatigue” from the collective trauma experienced this year. The pandemic has highlighted a host of complications that many have never experienced, ultimately causing anxiety due to unanswered questions about the future.
According to Everyday Health and The Ohio State University, 91% of people believe that mental health is just as important as their physical health, yet only 33% said they were likely to ask for help or seek out counseling. When preparing for an isolating holiday season, it’s important to be honest with yourself about mental health, take time to regroup, and focus on things important to you.
So, how can one prioritize their mental health and get through an atypical holiday season? As corny as it sounds, it’s as simple as being kind—to yourself, to others, to your community.
1. Show yourself kindness
Holidays are already stressful, and this feeling can be exacerbated during a pandemic, making it even more important to be kind to yourself. This can be as simple as indulging in self-care, trying something you’ve always been interested in or thinking about things from a new perspective.
It’s also important to look for positive differences in this season than in previous years—maybe you aren’t seeing your aunt who never fails to ask, “When are you getting married?” Perhaps you can also avoid awkward encounters at the holiday office party. If setting up decorations in your home brings you joy, start putting them up now. If decorating for the holidays stresses you out, give yourself permission to take a break this year. Identifying sources of joy for yourself and your family will be key to maintaining positive mental health during this time.
2. Focus on what is within your control
During times of crisis, it’s very easy to start feeling overwhelmed as there is heightened focus on things outside of your control. This ultimately leads to anxiety, depression, along with feelings of helplessness during an already difficult time. Shifting your mindset to focus on what is within your control and where you can make an impact with others will help you better manage your mental health during the holidays.
On a practical basis, this could mean something as simple as writing a list with two columns. On one side, list the things that are within your control (i.e. your decisions, your actions, or your activities). On the other, list things outside your control (i.e. other peoples’ choices or expectations in relation to the holidays or the pandemic). Now, focus your energy on the items within your control.
Maybe you plan a meal to cook for dinner that night or give yourself a 20-minute break to take a walk during lunch—whatever it is that creates a sense of normalcy for you. Even though the list might change daily, it’s helpful to have a visual reminder of what needs prioritizing.
3. Maintain connections with loved one
In previous years, holiday trips and family gatherings were major sources of holiday stress. This year, as we are encouraged to stay at home, practice social distancing, and refrain from organizing family gatherings, this disruption to our holiday plans is adding a different kind of challenge.
With many burnt out from using daily Zoom meetings, finding new, creative ways to connect with loved ones will be key to mastering the holiday season. For example, sharing family texts, playing interactive online games, or participating in virtual wine tastings or cooking classes can create a sense of connectivity. Additionally, finding ways to laugh with others during this time is important to sustaining positive mental health, providing a lighter topic of discussion among families or friends during this heavier time. Moreover, virtually connecting with loved ones can especially help elderly or those living alone as they might be feeling more isolated than usual this time of the year.
And remember, maintaining connection with others doesn’t have to be too technology-heavy; a simple phone call is a kind and often welcomed gesture.
4. Do what you can to give back
Due to decreased travel and less holiday shopping, many Americans will have saved money this season. In fact, instead of losing weight or splurging on new products, many people are setting year-end resolutions around saving. So, how can you best utilize this extra cash? A simple answer: giving back to others.
Many nonprofit organizations and charities are experiencing setbacks this year. Charitable giving and supporting causes near to your heart allows you to lift your community up and feel a sense of connection with others that you might not otherwise experience isolating in your home this holiday season. As unemployment continues to be an issue and many are worried about a second shutdown, giving back to those less fortunate can be therapeutic. While you can do this individually, I encourage you to share this with loved ones by donating to a cause or charity with colleagues, friends, or family to create a better sense of community during this time.
During this unusual holiday season, people can empower themselves to focus on their mental health by taking the time to decompress, finding ways to connect with family, and, overall, identifying new ways to recharge that’s meaningful and productive. Ultimately, small actions taken now will have a profound impact on our mental health as we encounter new restrictions and contend with the colder months ahead.
Mark Debus is the behavioral health team lead at insurance firm Sedgwick.