The holiday season is a tough time for a lot of people. Every year, feelings of loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness affect countless people for any number of reasons. This year, the effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic are sure to make that even more difficult for people, especially because mental health issues, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation were already on the rise during the summer.
Stress and sadness are normal emotions that everyone deals with at some point or another, and most of the time, they’re emotions that people are able to deal with in a healthy manner. But these feelings are often magnified by the holidays. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to limit your stress levels and improve your mental wellness this time of year.
Make a Plan to Stay Connected
Isolation can be one of the key factors and common results of depression, but talking it out with loved ones and those around you is one of the best ways to understand if you’re just feeling down about something or if there are more serious mental health issues to be concerned about.
There’s no question that social-distancing guidelines and more limited in-person interactions have contributed to an increased feeling of isolation for many people, so it’s important to have a plan for how you’re going to keep in touch with the people who matter most. Even if you can’t make it to this year’s holiday party with your friends, put a time on the calendar to get together online with everyone, or give them a call for a quick chat every few days. There are countless ways to connect with people without being around them physically, so picking the option that works best for you is what it’s all about. And if you’re not worried about yourself, make it a point to stay in touch with those who you think could benefit from a regular conversation.
Get Outside if You Can
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. Although the exact causes of SAD aren’t fully known, it’s believed to be linked to changes in the way the body regulates Vitamin D, melatonin, or serotonin as a result of changes in light and activity levels that come with the fall, winter, and even spring months.
Although it might get too cold to get outside for a walk or run during the winter, just going out to run some errands can help expose you to more sunlight that’s been shown to relieve symptoms of SAD in some people. And even if you don’t have a clinically diagnosed case of SAD, there’s no question that getting out and about is a good way to change things up if you’ve been cooped up at home since the pandemic began.
Know and Respect Your Limits
There’s a lot that’s unknown about the holiday season this year. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into countless plans and expectations from friends and family, and no one has all the answers about how you should handle it.
We can’t tell you to not host your annual get-together or to make that yearly trip out to see extended family. We obviously recommend against doing anything that could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 among families and friends, but not everyone is going to feel that way, even as the virus continues to spread quickly across the country. Have an honest conversation with those close to you about what you’re feeling and whether or not you feel comfortable partaking in a particular activity. It’s far better to have a tough conversation about not attending a gathering than it is feeling anxious about potentially spreading or contracting the virus while you’re there.
In the same vein, if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by everything that’s going on in the news, demands from work, or requests from those who are close to you, take a step back and a deep breath. Everyone needs time to process what’s going on around them, and giving yourself space if you find yourself reaching your limits is the best way to gather your thoughts and feelings.
Stick to a Budget for Holiday Shopping
Financial stress is one of the most common causes of unhappiness around the holidays, and this year is no different, especially with so many people around the country facing unemployment.
We’ve all experienced the positive rush that comes from buying new and exciting things for others (and ourselves) around the holidays. Don’t use that as a way to relieve stress or unhappiness — you’ll find yourself feeling far worse about your situation after you check your bank account if you overextend yourself. Instead, set a reasonable budget for how much you’re able and willing to comfortably spend on holiday gifts and stick to it. Not only will this keep you in line with your bigger financial goals, but it’ll also give you an extra sense of accomplishment when you get all your shopping done within the parameters you set.
Get Help When You Need It
Seeking out professional help is not a failure or a sign of weakness. Everyone needs help from time to time, and if you’re finding yourself feeling overwhelmed by what’s transpired this year or an unshakable feeling of sadness or hopelessness during the holidays, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers a variety of free resources that can help you find the right professional, and you can always talk to your primary care physician for a referral or additional advice.
If you or someone you know is in suicidal or emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If it’s a potentially life-threatening situation, call 911 immediately.