2020 is finally drawing to a close and with it comes the holiday season. While the thought of gift shopping, holiday food, family time and decorations may bring excitement to the heart of many, a certain amount of stress can come with celebrating the holidays.
Dr. Beatrice Tauber Prior, a clinical psychologist and owner of Harborside Wellbeing in North Carolina, recognizes a spike during the Christmas season with stress and anxiety. “Stress over what the holidays look like in 2020 continues to increase the symptoms of anxiety and depression for many,” Dr. Prior says, explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic can multiply our stress over the holidays. And why wouldn’t it? The added stress of seeing family while social distancing, cooking for family while staying hygienic and gift-shopping in cities and countries that are shut down is stressful enough, let alone the thought of how long the pandemic will continue.
Here are some tips on how to conquer the holiday stress and keep yourself physically and mentally healthy during November and December.
- Keep it simple
The easiest answer is the most obvious one. Cut back on the things that are too difficult to get done during the holidays, take a big strain on your body and don’t bring you happiness.
Dr. Prior recommends thinking of all the times in previous holiday seasons where you ate or drank too much or did more for others than yourself. This is the year when “you can choose to be with fewer people in settings that are meaningful to you,” she says.
Keep things low-key and only stick to activities that you truly want to do for a stress-free season.
- Enjoy everything — but in moderation
Are you pretty indulgent during the holidays? Feeling called out? This is pretty normal, but in moderation. “Some of this is OK and part of the holiday season; too much of this only adds up to extra pounds and additional emotions including guilt and shame,” states Dr Prior.
It is still important to prioritize your health, both mental and physical, during the holidays. That might mean that you enjoy some extra cookies or enjoy a night in front of the TV with Christmas movies. But your time should include doing things that are good for your body, like taking some time out to exercise, meditate, hydrate with water or eat something that is more vegetables than sugar.
To stay active, try taking walks with your family to see Christmas lights in the neighborhood, if your state allows it, or simply enjoy the cooler weather with your family and play out in the snow. If your state is in lockdown, though, try doing a family workout from home. Plenty of home workouts are on YouTube for free and can be played on the TV to get the blood pumping!
- Remember this is only one holiday season
Everyone in the United States and worldwide is going to be having a very different holiday season this year. That is scary for most, so it’s understandable if you’re sad that you won’t be able to get involved in your regular holiday traditions, like family visits or cooking up Christmas and Thanksgiving feasts. Keeping some perspective on the situation, however, will make you feel more at ease.
“If you look at your life as a book with lots of chapters, this time with COVID is one chapter in your book. … There are more chapters to come,” says Dr. Prior. Choosing how you react to this situation and how you move forward will determine what you take away from this chapter, and whether you’re a main character in your own life. As different as it may seem, this is only one holiday season. The holidays may have to change but the meaning behind them doesn’t have to. You can still value your family, food, love, charity or whatever the holidays mean to you during this season. It just might mean a little creativity and a step outside the box.
If you want to prioritize family in the holidays, try regular Zoom calls or parties or even hosting a socially distanced gathering or drive-by, if your state will allow it. If cooking means a lot to you, cook up new dishes and send videos or pictures to friends and family and post about it on social media. Give hampers to charities in need or donate regularly if you can, if you value charity during the holidays.
This holiday season is definitely a different version than the one we had all pictured at the start of 2020. But it’s important to remember the pandemic will eventually subside. This holiday season, it’s important more than ever to prioritize your mental and physical health, and to make this time memorable for the good things that happened.
Dr. Prior says, “Being proactive can help reduce the feelings of stress over the upcoming holiday.” It is the best time to make new traditions, events and activities to make this holiday season the least stressful and most exciting one yet.