The holidays have always been a complicated time of year. For some people they’ve been looking forward to finally having the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. For others, it’s a time of high anxiety as they navigate crowded malls, run from office parties to neighborhood gatherings, wake up at dawn to cook all day and manage their always disappointed in-laws.
Whether the holidays bring you a sense of joy or a sense of dread, this year is going to be different.
Many people manage this time by simply putting a smile on their face and holding their breath until January 2nd arrives so they can finally exhale. Since mid-March of this year our entire world has been managing a variety of emotions on a daily basis. While we each have had a different pandemic experience, we’ve all experienced more anxiety, more stress and more uncertainty than years past.
The American Psychological Association recently released their study on Stress in America 2020 and not surprisingly the APA found, “Many Americans are experiencing considerable stress related to the coronavirus and are also reporting higher levels of general stress than in recent years.” This is why protecting your mental health during this holiday season needs to be your top priority.
Based on my experience working with my clients this past year, they’re most worried about how to manage their feelings of isolation and loneliness as well as coping with their feelings of uncertainty.
There are three “mantras” for you to remember this holiday season to protect your mental health:
Be Mindful, Get Grateful and Stay Connected.
Long before Covid-19 and despite our ability to be “connected” all the time via our smartphones, people have been struggling with feelings of loneliness. A 2006 study showed that one out of every four people felt like they didn’t have anyone to talk to about their personal problems.
Loneliness isn’t about physically being alone, it’s about how we feel about being alone. We feel lonely when we’re disconnected to ourselves and to the people around us. In some cases our loneliness is a direct result from the circumstances of our lives. When my clients feel lonely they automatically start trying to find ways to distract themselves. We all really struggle with simply allowing ourselves to feel our feelings without trying to “fix” or solve the problem. Acknowledge how you feel without judgement will allow you to move through your feelings much faster.
Learning to practice mindfulness is one of the best things you can do for yourself, not only as a way to manage your feelings of loneliness but as a way of simply managing your emotions. If you’re not familiar with mindfulness, it’s being able to focus your attention on the present moment. Practicing mindfulness means you’re bringing your awareness to what’s happening in your body and mind at that moment.
There are several reasons why this year has been so hard on everyone but the hardest aspect of living through this pandemic has been managing feelings of uncertainty. As you learn to be more mindful of your thoughts and feelings, the best way to focus on what you’re certain about are the things that make you feel happy and hopeful for the future.
Gratitude is the quality of being thankful, being able to show appreciation and return kindness to another person. Research has shown practicing gratitude on a regular basis changes our brains and our bodies by improving our sleep, our self-esteem, our relationships with other people and lowers aggression.
The simple act of thinking positive thoughts creates more positive thoughts and feelings. When you replace old negative toxic thoughts with more positive ones, you’re spending less time ruminating on negative thoughts. It’s our thoughts that determine how we feel about ourselves and the world around us.
When you find yourself feeling unhappy or anxious about something, try thinking about what you’re grateful for, which automatically replaces your negative thoughts.
While we all have our smartphones permanently glued to our hands these days, we’re more disconnected from one another than ever before. Long before Covid-19, my clients were struggling with the quality of their relationships. They would text constantly but didn’t feel any closer or more connected to the people in their lives.
This holiday season is your opportunity to start connecting with the people in your life again. Don’t assume your loved one is “busy” and doesn’t want to hear from you. Pick up the phone and call them. We’re all struggling with “zoom fatigue” so find other creative ways to be connected with your family. Set up your laptop at your kitchen table and “share a meal” with a friend or family member. Find unique and thoughtful note cards you can mail to your loved ones and let them know what’s going on in your life and that you want to hear about their lives as well.
Stay connected but really limit how much time you spend on social media. Messaging someone on Instagram or by Facebook messenger is nice but it shouldn’t be your primary way of communicating with the people in your life. Social media tends to make us feel like we’re missing out on something or not living our lives as well as our friends. If you start to feel those kinds of feelings, get off social media and remember to be mindful and get grateful.
While it wasn’t anyone’s choice to make this year different and many of the things that have made this year different were negative, that doesn’t mean we have to approach the end of the year with a negative