It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving has just ended, and Christmas is around the corner. Whether you celebrate or don’t, the holiday season is upon us – even in 2020, the year of COVID-19.
On the surface, this is the time of year when twinkle lights go up around the neighborhood, Christmas songs fill the airwaves, and the pumpkin spice is replaced by peppermint and pine in the candle aisle. On the surface, it’s a time of good cheer – even in 2020, the year of COVID-19.
Under the surface, the holiday season can be much less sparkly. Underneath the twinkle lights, Deck the Halls, and peppermint or pine-scented candles, we can find, if we tune in just a little, piles of stress, mounds of sadness and grief, loneliness, and oftentimes a large handful of shame – perhaps especially in 2020, the year of COVID-19.
This time of year can be very difficult for people. And that’s without the stress that IS 2020. This year, on top of the “normal” stress, sadness, grief, loneliness, and shame, many folks are struggling with unprecedented financial strain, illness, loss, and fear. This can lead to depression, an increase in drugs and alcohol, and even thoughts of suicide. There are ways of getting through the season safely and sanely. Here are some tips:
- Say hello to your feelings. Now isn’t the time to try to pretend, squash, or numb out. Acknowledging your feelings is an important step toward moving through them and staying healthy. You might talk to a friend, use your journal, or scribble with crayons in a notebook. If you’re lonely or grieving the loss of a friend or family member, that’s normal. If you need to cry or punch a pillow, do that. Let your feelings out rather than attempting to bottle them up. You don’t have to pretend to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
- Make a list of your Self-Soothers, and keep it nearby. This may sound silly, but having a list takes out the “I have to think about it” piece when you’re already feeling overwhelmed or depressed. Try to focus toward the healthy end of the continuum – call a friend, take a nap, have a bath, eat delicious food. Watching a show or even a few of them and reading terrible romance novels have their place here too.
- Reach Out. Connect with your friends and family virtually or by phone or text. Seek out religious or spiritual services or groups that offer safe ways of meeting in person or virtually. Go to a virtual 12-step meeting or join an exercise, cooking, or even an acting or improv class online. Sometimes, helping someone else is the perfect little tonic. Leave a meal on your neighbor’s doorstep or make small gifts and drop them off at a local shelter.
- Take it Easy on Yourself. Perfection is a myth. Let it go. You may have all kinds of expectations about what the holidays are supposed to be like. Many people do. This year, when so much feels weird and out of alignment anyway, why not let that stuff go? Try focusing on the things that you can do, want to do, and really take joy in. Build new traditions.
- Stay in the Present. Rather than romanticizing holidays past or projecting out to holidays in the future, stay here. Yes, it’s a little messy here in 2020, but if you focus on what’s right in front of you, you can make it the best it can be rather than being caught up in what it isn’t. The quickest way to depression and anxiety is time-hopping. Find ways to come back to the present. Pet your dog or cat, play with a child, water your plants, follow your breath, or put everything you have into a task like washing a cup or a dish.
- Practice Gratitude. Gratitude is a major focus this time of year, and while it might be a little harder to find the good stuff right now, make a concerted effort to do so. You’ll feel better. You can focus on general things like your health or having a place to sleep at night, or you can get specific and right down to the moment and recognize the song that’s playing or the sensation of your cat’s weight against your leg. If you want to take this to the next level, keep a running gratitude list and review it often.
- Practice your “no” skills. The holidays are prime time for Boundaries 101. Saying “yes” when you really mean “no” is a quick set-up for exhaustion, anger, resentment, and even shame. Learning to speak your “no” truthfully and respectfully can go a long way towards easing holiday stress. It’s also a great way to get to know yourself and build your self-esteem. What a gift.
- Stay as close to your healthy habits as you can. You know the drill. Get plenty of sleep. Feed your body with healthy food. Drink your water. Get some exercise. Meditate or practice some deep breathing. Get some fresh air. It can be easy to fall into holiday overindulgence – eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much, and sleeping too little. If you can stick to the healthier side of the street (at least most of the time), your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.
- Reach out for professional help if you need to. If you are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety that are disrupting your life, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Therapists and other mental health professionals are well aware that the holidays can be very difficult for people. If you or someone you love is struggling with drugs or alcohol, you can visit SAMHSA for help finding treatment, or you can contact us here at Luna Recovery Services at 1-888-448-LUNA. If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of self-harm, please reach out for help by calling 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a day or by going to your nearest emergency room.
The holiday season can be difficult, and this season may be harder than most. Time passes though, and the holidays do too. Stay safe, take it easy on yourself, and remember to breathe deeply whenever you can.
Dr. Allaire received his Bachelors of Science in Biology from the University of Houston, as Valedictorian of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and his Medical Doctorate from Baylor College of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident. He is the medical monitor for the Physician Counseling Committee of the Harris County Medical Society and the Medical Director of Serenity House Detox. Dr. Allaire specializes in medically assisted detox cases, treating patients in recovery from addiction or other mental health disorders, the medical assessment and monitoring of patients with addictive disorders, medical care related to eating disorders and the medical treatment of patients with mental health conditions.