In a typical year, the holidays are a fun, but often stressful time with lots to plan and do. With this year’s COVID-19 pandemic in full-swing, this holiday season could be uniquely challenging as many families may face having to modify or miss out on cherished holiday traditions. Many families have already spent months managing big changes to their daily routines. However, during the holiday season, our new ways of being are now impacting how we celebrate, as many holiday events may be canceled or reduced in scale. This is coming at a time when we may already be missing time together with family and friends, which can feel like a bit of a “perfect storm.”
The idea of missing out on treasured opportunities to connect in-person with the people we care about is likely to cause some degree of sadness and disappointment. And these unfortunate effects are occurring on top of the additional stress and anxiety that a lot of people are already feeling during this uncertain time. All of that is understandable; there is a lot we can be worried and stressed about, including:
- Our family’s safety and the health of our friends and loved ones;
- The effects of the pandemic on our kids’ education;
- Changes to how we work and socialize;
- Loss of employment and financial setbacks;
- Contentious and polarized political environment;
- Rapidly increasing infection rates across the country;1
In addition, this year, some people may also be grieving the loss of a loved one. While these feelings during this challenging time are normal and to be expected, too much stress and anxiety can negatively impact our mental and physical health if we don’t know how to manage it. Any time of the year there are things we can do on our own to cope with the extra stress and anxiety and boost our mental and emotional well-being. Some of those include:
- Talking with others and making time to connect virtually. It can be helpful to share your worries and feelings with others.
- Schedule time for activities you enjoy and take time to relax.
- Take breaks from listening to the news, watching TV or checking social media to keep your mind clear of potentially upsetting news.
- Try stretching and other mindful activities, such as meditation or deep breathing. Continue to stay healthy by eating balanced meals and getting plenty of good rest.2
Although these tips are helpful, it’s also important to know when it’s time to seek additional support. If stress and worry continue to affect your daily activities for many days in a row or is overwhelming, it’s time to reach out to your doctor or benefits provider to talk about finding appropriate support. Some other signs, although these may be signs of other medical conditions, that mean it may be helpful to seek support include changes in appetite, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating or increased use of substances, such as alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.
These changes in the way we celebrate holiday traditions will be especially challenging for those already struggling with loneliness and isolation, such as the millions of older adults who’ve already been staying close to home and avoiding crowded places for months because of their higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.3,4 Here are some tips for checking in on family members, friends and other older adults you care about who may be at risk for social isolation and loneliness this holiday season:
- Be creative about bringing social distancing into other types of visits, such as sitting on the porch or in the yard and visit from across the lawn or driveway.
- Send regular postcards or letters and re-discover the joy of good old snail mail.
- During your conversations, ask how they’re keeping up with their health and wellness routines like regular exercise, a healthy diet, quality sleep and receiving recommended health screenings and management of health conditions.
- Try senior-friendly tech products such as smart devices designed to address the needs of seniors. There are simplified phone and tablet options with large text and buttons, as well as added security features to keep scammers and spammers at bay.
- Offer gentle encouragement about technology. There are a lot of options for video calling and choosing just one can be overwhelming, especially for seniors who may not be as comfortable with the latest technology.
- To make it easier, help them find and become familiar with a video calling app that’s easy to use and accessible to their needs.
- Or if they’re already using a particular app, continue with that
- Consider setting up a plan with the person’s other family members and friends so there’s a schedule to help safely stay in regular touch using technology to bridge the distance.5
Over the past few months, we’ve all had to adjust to new ways of working, learning and participating in social activities – we can do the same for holiday gatherings. Although it won’t be the same as in years past for most of us, the important thing is finding ways to connect and spend time with the people you care about.