How to Cope During the Holidays with COVID
By Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, Santa Barbara County, Behavioral Wellness Department
For many people, the normal holiday season can often bring about stress. This holiday season, we have the additional stress of how to celebrate and honor traditions, with stay-at-home orders due to the rising cases of COVID. We have all made many sacrifices already and everyone is feeling fatigued.
It will be especially important this season to take extra steps to focus on our mental health, and keep in mind what we can do. The holidays are not cancelled because of COVID and neither should our hope be. If we continue to support one another, we will make it through this challenging time together and come out stronger than before. Here are some important reminders during the holiday season:
Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died and this is the first holiday without them, or you have an ill family member and are grieving being unable to gather as a family, or simply knowing you can’t gather with friends or family outside your household this year, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief.
Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out friends, family, faith-based leaders or other virtual social gatherings. There are many ways to engage in holiday events which are happening virtually and still feel the holiday spirit. The simple act of saying out loud how you feel to another can be very helpful.
Find meaningful activity. Volunteering your time to help others is a good way to lift your mood and broaden your connections with others. For example, consider dropping off a meal or special holiday treat to a friend or family member’s home.
Be realistic. Let go of the constant thinking of what will not be the same this year. Keep in mind that the holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like years past. Choose a few traditions to hold on to that can continue despite the COVID impact, and be open to creating new ones. Find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or zoom chats with festive holiday backgrounds. Even though the holidays will look different this year, find ways to celebrate – it is actually just what we all need right now!
Set aside differences. Not everyone will feel the same way that you do. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, rather than wishing they would see things a different way. Set aside grievances until a better time for discussion. Show extra patience and understanding to others right now, and to yourself.
Take breaks. Carve out time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring your energy.
Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an abundance of gifts. This will only make you feel worse once the bills catch up.
Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other safe activities. This allows you to take time to enjoy the holiday season rather than trying to cram it all together at last minute. If preparing holiday dinners for your household, plan your menus and then make your shopping list to help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients.
Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no to a particular work demand, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time. Take control of pausing and slowing down.
Don’t abandon healthy habits. With many working from home and now staying home to help stop the spread of the virus, it can be easy to lose sight of healthy habits and routines. Here are some tips:
- Eat healthy and balanced meals
- Get plenty of sleep
- Include physical activity and getting outdoors in your daily routine
- Limit time watching or reading the news
Reach out for help if needed. Reach out and connect with other people. If despite the connections with others, you still feel consistently sad or anxious, irritable, hopeless, having trouble sleeping or difficult managing regularly daily routines, reach out to a mental health professional.
If you, or a loved one, is experiencing a mental health crisis and need immediate assistance please call the Behavioral Wellness 24/7 Access Line at 888-868-1649.
To connect with the Community Wellness Team and get connected with mental health resources or to be linked to a volunteer caller through the Senior Holiday Phone Bridge program, please call 805-364-2750.
Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, is the County of Santa Barbara’s Chief Quality Care and Strategy Officer and is responsible for leadership of Quality Care and Strategy Management within the Department of Behavioral Wellness.