It’s hard to believe we’ve been in pandemic panic mode for 9+ months with the holidays at our heels. Having to work from home, homeschool your kids, and find a mask to wear every time you leave the house can be draining. From losing friends or family to the virus to losing work or your home, this situation has certainly challenged all of us.
Isolation and “staying put” is also difficult. We miss even simple travel like driving to work, the mall, or the grocery store. Disappointment in not seeing friends and family, especially at holiday time, is natural. Having to send gifts out on time adds another layer of stress. Some individuals are at higher risk for psychological distress than others. Being resilient is vital.
Who’s at risk?
A recent systematic review of 41 studies evaluated the indirect impact of COVID19. About half of the studies were on health care workers while the other half included the general public. Not surprisingly, individuals working in health care experienced more depression/depressive symptoms, anxiety, poor sleep quality, and increased psychological distress. Higher scores of anxiety and depression, as well as lower psychological well-being, were seen in the general public compared to how they felt pre-pandemic. A higher risk of psychiatric symptoms was observed more frequently in females, poor-self-related health, and having family members with COVID-19. 1
Another article published in the Cambridge University Press identifies four groups of individuals with a higher risk of mental and psychological consequences of the pandemic. These include those who have had direct or indirect contact with the virus, those with prior physical or mental issues, health care professionals, and people that are frequently watching multiple media channels. This list could virtually include anyone.2
How to reduce stress and anxiety during the holidays:
Self-care is always important for good mental and physical health during the holiday season, but even more important during a pandemic. If we want to get through this, we may cope better with a few strategies within our control. Here are 10 ways:
- Reduce your sources of stress. Limit how many news sources you read as well as the frequency of consumption. Ignore information from unofficial or uncontrolled sources.
- Increase communication with friends or family. This is not only via phone or Zoom calls, but writing letters, sending holiday packages, or meeting in person, but at a physical distance with masks.
- Keep a regular schedule for meals and sleep. This may help maintain energy throughout the day, reduce frequent snacking, and help to reduce fatigue.
- Get outside. Being out in nature reduces your screen time and provides a mental break. Seeing neighbor’s holiday decorations and lights may also cheer you up.
- Exercise regularly. Go for a walk, bike ride, or hike. Use hand weights or a medicine ball indoors or a stationary bike, elliptical machine, or other equipment if you have it.
- Volunteer in your community. If you have time, spend some of it helping others. This will lift your spirits in addition to giving back. Opportunities such as food rescue, holiday toy drives or other charity work could use help these days.
- Take care of your pets and your skin. Psychologists note we may all be suffering from “skin hunger” from the lack of personal touches we’re normally used to. Pet your dog or cat often, hug the people in your immediate circle daily. Treat yourself to a long bath or hot shower or use a favorite lotion on your legs and arms. We all need a human touch.
- Enjoy the silence. Embrace the introvert in you. Meditate daily, read more or journal your thoughts. Write 3 things you’re grateful for each day. Life is not always a group activity, and that’s OK.
- Learn a new hobby. Baking sourdough and banana bread became a hit this year because everyone had more time at home. Use an app to learn a new language or yoga or try your hand at a new craft like collaging.
- Ask for help. Mental health professionals are poised and ready to use telehealth for those who need professional help with their stress or anxiety.
Remember, we won’t be in crisis mode forever. There is light at the end of the tunnel. We just need to be patient and trust that this too, shall pass.
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
- Vindegaard N, Benros ME. COVID-19 pandemic and mental health consequences: Systematic review of the current evidence. Brain Behav Immun. 2020 Oct;89:531-542
- Fiorillo, A., & Gorwood, P. (2020). The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health and implications for clinical practice. European Psychiatry,63(1), E32. doi:10.1192/j.eurpsy.2020.35