The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, or the most stressful. A second year of COVID concerns on top of unique stressors, like deciding whether to gather in person or making sure guests are vaccinated, may further tip the scales.
“The pandemic has impacted our mental health,” says Jerry Gold, PhD, psychologist and administrator, Scripps Behavioral Health. “Jobs, school, our ability to connect with our loved ones —it’s had an effect on our well-being. All of that has changed, and we need to acknowledge it, then learn to cope with the stress of the pandemic in healthy ways.”
Be mindful of your mental health. This unprecedented crisis has disrupted so many of our typical routines and as a result, most of us have experienced various effects of stress.
Watch for warning signs, such as disrupted sleep, feeling withdrawn, increased anxiety or depression, fatigue and inability to focus. If stress is affecting your ability to function, it’s time to seek help.
Self-help resources can be found almost anywhere these days, but Dr. Gold says it’s best to stick to credible public health agencies, such the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the World Health Organization. For instance, the CDC has a wealth of resources for parents, and NAMI has specific advice for maintaining mental health during the holiday season.
Re-evaluate how you celebrate. It’s important to keep in touch with loved ones — these connections can be beneficial to your mental health — but they may not be as savvy about speaking from a screen. Make sure you’re inclusive of loved ones who are less comfortable with the virtual world, says Dr. Gold. Consider dropping off food if they’re local or calling them on the telephone instead.
Volunteer work can be a great way to spend time together and has been linked to stress reduction. If in-person gatherings are possible this year, Dr. Gold suggests volunteering as a way to reach out to those who are less fortunate and can’t get out on their own.
Be wary of misinformation. Make sure you and those you care about get information from reliable sources, and if you can, help them sift through all the noise. Also, talk to your doctor. It’s always helpful to keep your primary care doctor in the know about your mental health, Dr. Gold says. If you have an established relationship with your primary care doctor, discuss it with them, and they can help find the best source for help.