Coping With Holiday Stress and COVID-19
How to Manage Holiday Stress During COVID-19
Holidays mark an important time for many Americans. Families and friends gather to enjoy large meals, exchange gifts, participate in activities and worship together. However, COVID-19 has disrupted traditional celebration plans. Zoom gatherings, drive-by gift exchanges and live-streamed religious services may be the new normal for families this holiday season.
We spoke with Dr. Tracey Johnson, assistant director of the CONCERN Employee Assistance Program, about how you can manage your emotions and set realistic expectations as you prepare for the holidays.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Disruptions to beloved traditions happen frequently—a family member dies, a child moves away from home and work schedules complicate planned festivities. You may feel sad, angry, anxious or guilty. Acknowledge how you navigated change in the past and ask yourself how those coping skills can help you celebrate the holidays during a pandemic.
“Instead of focusing on the cons of the situation, think about the pros,” said Johnson. “Look at the bright side. Family gatherings will likely be smaller and more intimate this year due to pandemic guidelines. If big, crowded events make you feel stressed, think about how a smaller, socially distanced event could feel more comfortable and meaningful to you.”
Different doesn’t always mean bad. However, if the holiday momentum feels overwhelming, Johnson recommends counteracting one negative thought with five positive thoughts.
“The coronavirus may change your hosting plans,” said Johnson. “You could still cook a few dishes to drop off at a family member’s house or share a meal with friends over Zoom. But you don’t have to prepare an elaborate meal for 30 people this year. You don’t have to deep clean the house. This makes holiday preparation a little less stressful.”
Johnson says you don’t need to let go of traditions—rather, use creativity to craft more inclusive holiday experiences this year. Consider virtually inviting family members who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend.
“Technology allows us to invite loved ones who won’t be able to participate in our holiday fun,” said Johnson. “Maybe you video chat with grandparents who live on the West coast. Be open to new opportunities to make lasting memories.”
Keep Your Healthy Habits
What is one of your best defenses against holiday stress? Healthy habits.
“We tend to forget about our own needs in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season,” said Johnson. “Make sure you get enough sleep, eat well and stay physically active.”
It’s OK to indulge in your favorite holiday dish or treat. Moderation is key. Don’t forget to maintain your daily or weekly workout routine. Exercise not only keeps you fit but also supplies your brain with feel-good endorphins that ward off anxiety and depression.
The coronavirus pandemic presented new and complex challenges. Many families are grieving experiences that didn’t happen this year due to the spread of COVID-19, including high school graduations, birthday parties, baby showers and funerals. If you’re grieving the loss of a person or an experience this holiday season, you’re not alone.
“We all grieve differently,” said Johnson. “The holidays can be a reminder of our loss. Draw attention to this feeling—don’t bottle it up. Make new traditions that honor the memories of loved ones who have passed on. If you need support, reach out to family, friends and health care professionals who can help you process grief and find joy again for the holidays.”