BHealthy Blog

Q&A: COVID-19, Mental Health & the Holidays

Sad woman at the holidays

The holiday season often brings joy, celebration, fun with family, delicious food and good times. Unfortunately, in a normal year it can also bring stress, anxiety or sadness. Thanks to COVID-19, this year’s holiday season could be even more difficult. You may have lost a loved one, be struggling to make ends meet, or be unable to celebrate with the same traditions you’re used to.

That’s why it’s especially important not to ignore your mental health right now. We’ve compiled a list of the top concerns we’ve seen around COVID-19, mental health and the holidays, and interviewed Baptist Health Behavioral Health Specialist Kristen Krauss, LPC, to get her tips for making it through the holidays this year.

The holidays can be a stressful time any year, but this year in particular feels much more difficult. How can I manage my stress?

I think it’s important that you first notice, accept and validate why you are feeling stressed. Stress is often a normal, realistic response to feeling like there are too many tasks or expectations at-hand without adequate resources to deal with them. Then, get curious with it:
  • What thoughts is my stress producing?
  • How is my body reacting?
Once you have identified this, you can think about what you need to manage the stress and find your safe zone and normalcy. If you have coping skills, use those. If you feel stuck, research coping skills, download a mental health app or speak to a professional.

What are some safe ways I can adapt my holiday traditions and still enjoy this time of year?

The key word is safety and what that means to you and your family. Identify traditions that you want to engage in and assess the risk of engaging in them. Is there a way to modify this tradition for this year? Getting feedback from people we trust is often a great place to start (doctors, friends, family, etc.). Control what you can control and don’t be afraid to not follow through with something if you don’t feel at peace about it. Your opinions and thoughts are allowed to change. If you don’t fully feel safe, anxiety and guilt may creep in and make your traditions not so fun.

I’ve decided to stay home instead of visiting family this year for the holidays. How do I handle feeling guilty for not seeing them?

As author Brené Brown explains, guilt tells me, “I did something bad,” and shame says, “I am bad.” If you make a choice that you feel is in your best interest, that is you practicing self-care and healthy boundaries. When we operate from a place of honoring our values, we are behaving in an ideal way. If others make you feel guilty, you cannot control that. If you have guilt messages surrounding your decisions, write them down or find ways to process them. Avoid overthinking them and feeling stuck as a result.

My family and I disagree on how we should celebrate this year. How can we discuss it in a way that doesn’t leave us all feeling frustrated?

Allow everyone an opportunity to share how they feel without interruptions. Allow time for questions and response. Frustration may be a valid internal feeling when others see things in a different way. Monitor your reactions if others make you feel frustrated. Remind yourself of the overall goal of what the holidays mean for your family. Adjusting our expectations to meet a new and sometimes scary reality is a natural recipe for a little anxiety. That is okay. Lean on your family for support and seek to find common ground. If there is no common ground, it’s okay to engage in different activities.

I’m feeling isolated. What can I do to feel more connected to my friends and family right now?

‘Tis the season to get creative in ways that we can engage with others. Utilize platforms that feel comfortable online, join virtual groups, or arrange certain times to call friends and family. Send pictures and videos to others so they know what is going on in your life or write a card. Make connection a part of your routine. Symptoms of anxiety and depression may tell people that, “nobody else understands or cares.” We must actively fight against these often irrational and unhelpful messages.

This year has been difficult financially. How can I set expectations with my family around gift-giving?

Find out what amount you are financially comfortable with for spending and stick to it. If spending isn’t an option for you this year, that is okay. If you feel comfortable telling your loved ones ahead of time that you are not giving gifts, that is also okay. Please honor that even if you are unable to participate in sending gifts, it is up to other people what they want to do.  Another option is to talk to your family about buying one gift each for a “secret Santa” exchange.

I suffered the loss of a loved one this year. How can I make it through the holidays while I’m still grieving?

Grief often works in its own way. Acknowledging your feelings throughout the process is vital. Don’t set harsh standards for how you feel you should behave or think. When you notice an emotion or memory surface, give it life by talking about it or writing it down. You may want to find ways to honor your loved one through engaging in his or her favorite tradition. Talk about your grief. Have a backup plan for activities for you to do if you feel intense emotions and normalize tears. Be patient with yourself.

When I look at social media, sometimes it feels like all of my friends and family are out and about while I’m just sitting at home. How can I avoid feeling influenced or discouraged?

You get to create your own reality and often, happiness. Remember that others use social media for a variety of reasons: to share memories of the past, to be noticed or validated or because they feel the desire to share their experiences with the world almost like a diary. If you feel influenced, sometimes this can be a positive to try a new activity that otherwise you may not have thought about. If you feel discouraged, this may be a trigger or cause for more introspection. If you are staying at home for safety, that is a valid reason and many others feel this way. If you are dealing with depression and staying at home as a way to isolate, this may be an important warning sign.   For more tips on mental health, please visit our Health Library. If you are in need of professional mental health services, our multi-disciplinary team of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, and drug and alcohol counselors can create a customized treatment plan to help you get back on the road to wellness. Learn more.