Wake me up when 2020 ends. Is this how you feel, too? This year has been like no other, and it’s not over yet. My husband recently tested positive for COVID-19; luckily his symptoms are very minor, but this means we will both be quarantined for the next week and a half. What a time to be quarantined, am I right?
The week of Christmas is upon us and the next two weeks will likely be difficult for many, including myself! COVID-19 has stripped away the joys that many of us feel around the holidays. Many will be forced to stay home rather than travel and see loved ones, which can be detrimental to one’s mental health, especially those who cherish holiday traditions. As a clinical psychology graduate student and licensed professional counselor, optimizing one’s mental health is a priority for me. And although I am a mental health professional, I am still susceptible to poor mental health. For this reason, I scoured the internet and reviewed the research to come up with a plan to manage the holidays this year. I’d like to share with you six tips to stay sane this holiday season, and dare I say even enjoy it?
1. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you want to feel, including the Holiday Stress
As I’ve talked with people around me, there seemed to be this need or expectation to remain positive even though the world is basically on fire. “At least I haven’t gotten COVID-19,” or “At least my symptoms were minimal, and I recovered,” are words that I hear frequently. But let me tell you a little secret: It’s okay to be sad, angry, and stressed about what’s going on! We often suppress our emotions and put on a brave front, but it’s okay to feel what you want to feel. As a mindfulness meditation researcher, I value present moment experiences and allow my body and mind to work through emotional turmoil times, and you should too. Allowing yourself to feel what you want to feel rather than trying to fight it is freeing, and it will help you maintain an overall positive mental health in the long run, which can really benefit you during this holiday season.
2. It’s time to take self-care seriously
Self-care has been coined as this magical experience that one aspires to achieve. It doesn’t have to be. Self-care can be as simple as staying in bed 15 minutes past your alarm clock (assuming you’re not going to make yourself late for any obligations). Self-care can be taking that extra-long shower or bath at the end of a long day instead of continuing to work on something that will still be there tomorrow (I’m looking at you, essay that I need to complete). Self-care is doing something you enjoy, something fun, to unwind, and bring a little joy into your life when all joy seems lost. The possibilities are limitless.
When I came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t fly back to New York for Christmas, I was angry and disappointed. I spent several hours trying to figure out a way to make it work out so that I could spend some time with my family, who I haven’t seen since last Christmas. When the acceptance finally hit, I allowed myself to feel sad and angry and then planned for ways to make Christmas day joyous –aka, mimosas. Leading up to Christmas, I plan to indulge in sappy holiday movies, bake cookies (I don’t usually bake, so wish me luck), and put together some holiday themed puzzles, all while wearing cozy sweaters. Obviously, your self-care can be tailored to suit your preference!
Thankfully, sleep is becoming a more popular subject of conversation, but I will reiterate its importance here as a friendly reminder. Sleep is necessary to stay both physically and mentally healthy. I completely understand that sleep is not the most straightforward task for some. Still, there are evidence-based methods of improving sleep, such as weighted blanketsor behavioral modification strategies. There is a bunch of research (just check out our entire blog) to suggest that weighted blankets can help alleviate anxiety and get you to sleep – two of one win! As far as behavioral modification strategies go, the experts suggest that you can train your brain to fall asleep faster if you use your bed only for sleeping and get out of bed if you aren’t able to fall asleep within ten minutes of laying down. Over time, practicing these strategies can train your brain to fall asleep quicker when you go to bed.
4. Socialization should not be restricted.
The pandemic has made it incredibly easy to isolate and recluse from friends and family. People we used to visit or hang out with are now locked away. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the pandemic has also allowed us to think outside the box and communicate with some people more. Most of my family lives 14 hours away, and I have friends scattered around the country. The pandemic has given us time to catch-up and connect through Zoom when we hadn’t had time to catch-up (or visit each other) in a hot minute. But I, probably like most of you, have neglected to remain social and communicate with the people who live nearby –the people I used to see every single day. Virtual game nights are fun, and they’re a great way to laugh and feel like you’re with the people you love, all while staying safe. Check out these options that I have tried out with my friends and highly enjoyed.
5. Make a plan!
Don’t wait until Christmas arrives to figure out how you’re going to spend the day. Try to make the day a little better by planning something fun. My husband and I decided that we’re going to sleep in under our heated blanket on Christmas day, which I’m sure the cats will hog. Then we will get up, have some mimosas, open the gifts we got for each other, all while Netflix’s fake fireplace is roaring on our TV, you know, for the ambiance. I’ve also recently discovered cat pajamas, and I think dressing the cats in these will provide comedic relief for the day!
Now, for comparison, this day will look very different from a typical Christmas where we have a big Christmas eve party, followed by a busy day visiting family, eating lots of food, and of course, drinking wine. Still, it’s important to have something to look forward to, so you don’t spend all day wishing you were somewhere else or with someone else. I invite you to make a list of feasible plans that will make the day feel a bit more unique than every other day of the year.
6. Find your Holiday Vibe
If you’re anything like me, then the holidays are an exciting, magical time where there are many festive activities, shopping, and gatherings that fill your heart with love. Unsurprisingly, the many traditional holiday festivities are canceled, and group gatherings are out. We are forced to elicit that warming love sensations from others means. An excellent way to do this is to think about what makes those occasions joyous for you? Think about ways to stimulate those senses in other ways. As I’m writing this article, I’m thinking about things for myself too, and here’s what I’ve come up with:
- The smell of Christmas trees is my favorite thing in this entire world, so as I continue to work at home this holiday season, I will fill my house with the scent of evergreens.
- This will be the first year I’ve ever spent Christmas in my own home and with my cats, so I’ll spend time and energy decorating and, of course, attempt to throw a sweater on my cats.
- I’ll likely stream Netflix’s fake fireplace a little bit more this year. Hey, don’t knock it ’til you try it.
What are some things that you can think of?
I hope that you can find use in the tips that I’ve provided. Know that you’re not alone in this feeling of despair, and I’ll undoubtedly practice what I preach this month alongside you. Above all, find moments in time where you can feel joy. We are all surviving, barely, and occasionally need gentle reminders to feel sad, angry, or anxious. But, we also need to be creative and find joy, so we don’t go stir crazy. Holiday stress is real, and is even more prevalent this year! I’d love to hear some ideas you all have for spending the holidays away from family this year. Shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment on our social media posts.