Holidays and COVID-19
A fresh perspective can help families cope.
Posted December 16, 2020
Most of us are shaken by facing life as we no longer know it, with a pandemic affecting us globally, the number of COVID-19 infections spiking, and worrisome unemployment on the rise. For many families dealing with the disruption in their lives due to the closure of daycares and schools, working from home and helping their children with remote learning brings high levels of stress.
In this challenging environment, the holidays look and feel very different this year. Some families who are unable to afford their housing and manage their responsibilities have had to move in with relatives. Even the most fortunate, who can comfortably work from home, report that they are struggling to balance their jobs and parenting duties, with the brunt of childcare falling mostly on women.
The mindset with which we approach the holidays can make all the difference. This year, many of us would benefit from shifting our focus from our losses and current restrictions to opportunities for creating new memories and traditions. Instead of trying to re-create what usually happens every year, this could be an occasion for creating new experiences that might even become lasting family traditions.
Something as simple as a family competition to decorate the best gingerbread house or tree ornament, taking lots of pictures for a special 2020 album, or finding new games to play can make a measurable difference in feeling grateful for what we have. The idea is to focus on what we can do to have fun within the parameters of this unusual year, rather than what we cannot.
It is still possible to celebrate while following the recommendations from health care experts, such as avoiding indoor gatherings, practicing physical distancing, wearing face masks, and washing hands frequently. Now that most of us have “Zoom skills,” we might want to consider connecting virtually for religious celebrations, sharing food recipes with friends, and even opening presents virtually with family members.
We can adjust our perspective and see the holidays as a time for reflection and assuming a “glass-half-full” mentality to counter all things unknown, as well as an opportunity to develop resiliency in the face of uncertainty and make our mental health a priority. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Services provides information for identifying the signs and symptoms of stress and practical advice for managing anxiety during the pandemic.
It is important to understand that stress signs and symptoms can manifest across a wide array of domains, such as the following:
- Behavioral: increase or decrease in energy and activity levels; increase in alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drug use; irritability, with outbursts of anger and frequent arguing; trouble relaxing or sleeping; crying frequently; worrying excessively; wanting to be alone most of the time; inability to feel pleasure or have fun
- Physical: stomach aches or diarrhea; headaches and other pains; loss of appetite or over-eating; sweating or chills; tremors or muscle twitches; startling easily
- Emotional: anxiety or fear; depression; guilt; anger; feeling heroic, euphoric, or invulnerable; apathy; overwhelming sadness
- Cognitive: trouble remembering; confusion; trouble thinking clearly, concentrating, or making decisions
Six tips for managing the stress
- Keep things in perspective: The first move you can make toward keeping your situation in perspective is setting limits on how much time you spend reading or watching the news about the pandemic, whether you get your news online, on TV, or by reading the newspaper. Although it is important to stay well-informed, excessive time spent consuming the news takes you away from things you can control and enjoy in your life.
- Stay healthy: Eat healthy foods and avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. Maintaining physical health will increase resilience to disease and stress. The key is good nutrition, exercise, and sleep, along with meaningful relationships and a sense of purpose and meaning in work.
- Develop a self-care plan: Identify activities that can bring a balance between family and work, such as creative endeavors, spiritual activities, and social interaction.
- Relax the body often by soothing activities, such as taking deep breaths, stretching, meditating, washing the face and hands, or engaging in pleasurable hobbies.
- Maintain balance throughout the day: Set a pleasant rhythm between stressful activities by doing a fun thing after a hard task.
- Extend kindness: Be kind to yourself and others. Begin by understanding the source of your stress and avoid harsh self-judgment. See your experiences as part of the larger human experience, and cultivate a sense of common humanity.