The holiday season is upon us and in many ways it feels the same as ever: Long dark nights are made brighter with festive light displays; classic carols are in rotation on the radio; and young children are eagerly making wish lists and doing their best to ensure they stay on the ‘nice’ list.
But in other ways the holidays look quite different this year. Shopping, visits with Santa, faith gatherings and office parties have moved online; trips are postponed; and many people are planning a very different kind of celebration in order to maintain physical distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There is no doubt that this year’s pandemic has taken a toll. There are many people facing health impacts of the virus; some families are grieving loved ones who have passed away; and even more are facing financial hardship or other stresses due to COVID-19.
The holidays can be stressful at the best of times but this year it is more important than ever to take care of yourself and your mental health.
12 tips to manage stress and make the most of this holiday season
1 Help others, volunteer
Volunteering your time or doing something to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden friendships. For example, consider dropping off a meal at a friend’s home or deliver baked goods to a neighbour during the holidays – particularly for those who may be alone.
2 Stick to a budget
Avoid overspending to compensate for scaled back celebrations or spending time with loved ones. Make a budget and stick to it.
3 Maintain healthy habits
Avoid overindulging in food, and keep up exercise routines as much as possible. Although the drinks may be flowing over the holidays it’s important to moderate drinking. Alcohol can have a negative impact on mood and affect your motivation around healthy habits like exercise. Getting enough sleep is also important for physical and mental health.
4 Practice gratitude
Although our gatherings may look different this year, there is still much to be grateful for. Look out the window and take the time to appreciate the colours. Notice the wind in the trees. Indulge your sense of wonder in this world. There is strong evidence that documenting the things you are grateful for can lift our mood.
5 Be intentional about how you spend your time
Devote time to being intentionally present by taking deep breaths, observing your surroundings and being in the moment. Take a break from worrying or focusing too much on challenges.Moderate screen time; take a break from the constant news cycle and social media, and avoid binge watching TV.
6 Spread positivity
Although we are wearing masks in public that hide our smiles, we can still share good old fashioned greetings. A chipper word or two creates community and reduces isolation. “Hello”, “Hi!”, “Good morning”, “After you” and “Happy holidays!” help us feel connected.
7 Reach out if you are feeling lonely or sad
Talk to a friend or family member – try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat. Or engage in online community, religious or other social events, support groups, social media or virtual events that can provide support and companionship. Organize a Zoom party so friends and family can visit from the safety of home, or schedule an outdoor activity – you can go for a walk, bike ride or snow shoe outdoors with a friend or family member you don’t live with. Just ensure you can maintain physical distance and don’t turn the activity into a group meeting.
8 Don’t romanticize holidays past
The holiday season brings expectations and stress for many people, and it is rarely perfect. The season won’t always be merry and bright, even at the best of times – and that is okay.
9 Start new traditions
Find creative ways to mark the season that accommodate current Public Health Orders – they may even become new traditions: Take a stroll through the neighborhood to view the lights; Surprise loved ones by leaving baked goods on their doorsteps; Or host an online ‘watch party’ with friends and family, complete with popcorn, eggnog and a classic holiday movie. Try new online activities such as trivia contests, karaoke parties, or building creative structures from household materials.
10 Remember, this too shall pass
Feeling dragged down by current events? Take the long view and find comfort in a time-tested saying that inspires you. Use the saying as much as you need to give you faith, comfort and hope. “This too shall pass” is a great example! The pandemic and resulting Public Health Orders are temporary.
If you are experiencing prolonged mental health challenges, such as sleep or appetite issues, low mood, or problematic substance use contact your primary care provider or local counsellor in your community.
If you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of self-harm, call the 24/7 Interior Crisis Line at 1-888-353-CARE (2273). This confidential and free service is available day and night, even on the holidays.
By being creative, focusing on the positive, keeping some perspective, and reaching out when we need help, we can not just survive this holiday season but even thrive.