Managing Holiday Stress in 2020

Even in an average year, the holidays can be stressful and overwhelming. This year, the reality of the ongoing global pandemic only exacerbates any pre-existing holiday stress.

It's not just the pandemic, either: this year, people are also dealing with increased at-home stress and deep social isolation. When you're struggling to keep going, it can be hard to summon the enthusiasm to celebrate the holiday season.

If you're able, try to give yourself a break. This isn't an average year, and you don't have to hold yourself to 2019's standards. Try to find time to make some new memories or just enjoy a well-deserved break.

If the holidays have you down, try these tips to keep you happy and healthy during these strange times. 


Be Realistic, Be Positive

Start by acknowledging that the holidays will be different this year. When you've given yourself space to grieve the gatherings you won't have or people you won't see, you're already on your way to alleviating seasonal stress. 

Dr. Mecca Maxey-Smartt, MD, has provided actionable mental health tips to help you have a happy and healthy holiday season. Try starting here: 

  • Manage your expectations: Organize your priorities so that you're prepared to balance your commitments. If you're feeling stressed, recognize your feelings so you can get to the root of what's causing them. Remember, no holiday season is perfect, and that won't change in 2020.
  • Create new traditions: This year is an opportunity for your family to create new traditions at home, like making meals together or bonding over your favourite shows, movies, or albums. Make this holiday season great by strengthening connections with loved ones.
  • Look ahead to better times: We're all looking forward to when COVID-19 is under control, and we can safely go back to living our lives. This hasn't been fun, but we know it's temporary. 

This year, many holiday gatherings have migrated online, making it even easier to see friends and extended family without a long drive or flight. Plan video chats with the special people in your life to maintain the connections critical for your mental health


Be Mindful 

Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program, describes mindfulness as "bringing your attention to the present moment with non judgment and acceptance. It is noticing when we get caught up in thoughts about the past or the future, and returning our attention to the present." 

Mindfulness is based on first understanding what we can and can't control. This approach sounds easier in theory than in practice, but give it a try. We can't control everything that happens to us, but we can make an effort to control our reactions to those things. 

Mindfulness also encourages us to accept imperfections. Few things ever go exactly as planned, and this is particularly true during the holidays. Instead of dwelling on what we may miss during this pandemic holiday season, we can try to accept that this year will be different.

If you're feeling anxious or stressed, take a few deep breaths and try to give yourself a break


Maintain Healthy Habits  

Sometimes little things can make a big difference in managing our mental health. When times are tough, stick to what's already been proven. 

  • Keep moving: We should all aim for at least 2.5 hours of exercise per week. If your local gym is no longer an option, consider investing in home workout equipment, or get outside for a safe walk, run, or bike ride. Don't wait for the right time, either: schedule physical activity in your calendar, just like meetings or work tasks. This will emphasize the importance of physical activity even when it slips your mind. 

"Exercise helps tremendously in boosting our moods. It releases endorphins our brains need to feel happy." — Dr. Mecca Maxey-Smartt

  • Indulge in moderation: While snacking on junk food or enjoying an alcoholic beverage can be a welcome treat, don't go overboard. This is extra important around the holidays when so many of us indulge beyond healthy levels. Ultimately, these temporary stopgaps will only make you feel worse. 
  • Keep your mind active: A sense of achievement can help keep us motivated. Whether you're crossing off items on a to-do list, finding a new hobby, or taking an online course to stimulate your mind, try to count your accomplishments, even small ones, as wins. 

If you're struggling with keeping up healthy habits, consider adding a mood support supplement to your health and wellness regimen. 


Be Kind to Yourself and Others  

The first step in mitigating stress is recognizing it. Reflect on how you're feeling and see if there's anything you can do to improve your mood in the moment. Practice self-care by seeking quiet spaces, calming sounds or scents, and other relaxing activities. Take deep breaths when you're feeling overwhelmed—remember, feeling poorly doesn't mean you're a bad person.

If the thought of planning virtual activities feels too overwhelming, leave that to someone else. Instead, try to take others up on their invitations, even if you're not up to organizing. Having things to look forward to is still essential for your mental health, and the pandemic has taken enough, hasn't it? Don't let it strip you of your joy, too. 

The holidays can be particularly gloomy for those without family or friends nearby. If you know someone in this situation, treat them with the kindness and empathy they deserve. Consider dropping off a meal at a friend's home or simply making a phone call to connect. Small acts of kindness for someone else can help you feel a lot better, too. 


Make the Best of Your Holidays

This year's holidays won't look or feel like years past, but making it through a year like 2020 is still something to celebrate.

Treat others with kindness, including yourself, and make space for joy in your daily routine. We're all looking forward to the promise offered by 2021.

From everyone at TRANSCEND, have a happy and healthy holiday!  

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