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Tips from STLCC: Avoiding Holiday Stress during a Pandemic

Holiday candles

Avoiding the Stress of the Holidays

The holiday season normally is filled with a dizzying array of activities, including parties, family gatherings, shopping, meal planning and cooking, cleaning, traveling, etc., etc.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to rethink how we plan to celebrate the upcoming holidays, and maybe have some difficult conversations with family and friends.

The counseling staff at St. Louis Community College offers some advice on how to make the 2020 holiday season one to remember, and perhaps the start of new traditions.

How do I talk to friends and family members about COVID-19 and the holidays, particularly when they downplay the danger of gathering together?

Keep in mind that everyone has their own comfort level when it comes to gathering during this pandemic. Open and honest communication with family and friends is the best place to begin. If you feel safer celebrating the holiday season at home rather than gathering with others, realize that it is OK. Communicate this early, if possible, to avoid others making special arrangements for you and your family. You may want to try saying it like this: “Thank you so much for thinking of us, but we won’t be able to make it this year.” If they ask why? “We hate to miss out on all the fun but staying home this year feels right for our family.” Avoid shaming others for getting together as this will only lead to hurt feelings and likely will not lead to change.

What are some ways to enjoy the holidays when you can't be together?

Make the 2020 holiday season the start of something new. When we can’t safely gather with friends and family as we have in years past, consider starting new traditions for yourself or with those living in your household. Chances are the same traditions you enjoyed with those outside of your immediate household can still be enjoyed on a smaller scale. Think of activities such as board game night, a holiday cookie decorating contest (with lots of categories and prizes to go around), a holiday movie marathon, a scavenger hunt in the backyard or around the house, or an evening drive to look at Christmas lights.

How can you safely attend a holiday gathering, or is this even possible?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) website contains comprehensive and up-to-date information on COVID-19.

The risk of COVID-19 spreading at events and gatherings increases as follows:

  1. Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events and gatherings.
  2. More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6-feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city or county).
  3. Higher risk: Medium-sized, in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6-feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
  4. Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6-feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.

Many will be observing holidays without loved ones who have passed this year or have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. What are some tips to help individuals cope with their losses and financial stress?

Whether you are grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of income this holiday season, consider these tips:

Grief

  • Do ask for help with shopping, cooking, wrapping or emotional support.
  • Do volunteer with or donate to a charity that is important to you or in honor of your loved one.
  • Do consider joining a local virtual grief support group.
  • Don’t take on more than you can handle. Give yourself permission to scale back this year.

Job Loss

  • Do have open communication with your spouse or partner about the financial picture.
  • Do let your children know that things may look a little different this year. Read Dave Ramsey’s 6 Secrets to Teaching Your Kids Contentment This Christmas.
  • Do take this time to build your social network and strengthen your resume.
  • Do stick to your routine. Keep to the same sleep schedule and use your free time to look for work.
  • Do work on accepting the situation and give yourself permission to do things differently this year.
  • Don’t delay the job search. The average job search takes six-to-nine months.

It is family tradition to gather every year. What are creative ways to do this safely?

When you cannot be together for the holidays, using Zoom, Face Time, Google Meet or other video communication platforms can serve as a unique and fun way to physically distance from others while still maintaining that all-important social connection. Consider scheduling a time for the entire family to meet virtually to make a dessert together, share a meal, watch a holiday movie, open gifts or simply to catch up.

Because this is a holiday season like no other, how do you help your kids deal with the stress of things being different this year?

Kids tune in to the stress they observe in their parents. If parents are constantly complaining about the events they will miss out on this year, then kids will naturally feel disappointed about it, too. It’s OK to be disappointed and permit them to express that, yet stay aware of how often you may gripe or complain that “this year isn’t the same as last year,” or other comments that can affect the whole mood of the household.

Kids may feel more unsettled and confused if they overhear parents arguing whether they should attend a relative’s holiday gathering. It’s very common for partners to have differing opinions regarding what activities outside the home pose a greater risk for contracting COVID-19. It’s important to maintain civility and respect when discussing differing views for the sake of the relationship, and for the kids -- they may be listening.

The stress kids have from the limitations and restrictions this holiday season can be managed the best by modeling a positive attitude while fostering a home environment where open expression of feelings is welcome.

What are some tips for handling the feeling of isolation or depression for students who are unable to be with family during the holidays?

Some ways to manage feelings of loneliness during the holidays are:

  • Acknowledge and accept these feelings; they are completely normal and expected.
  • Try writing about your feelings in a journal, texting or talking about them with family or friends.
  • Remind yourself that this pandemic is temporary, and that missing loved ones will make the reunion so much more appreciated and special.
  • Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine, such as deliberately focusing on all the colors and sounds in nature on a winter walk. Or, focusing on a few slow, full breaths each time you wash your hands. A mindful morning or mid-day stretch can help you notice the release of tension in the body.
  • Consider sending loved ones’ special cards, treats or gifts that you wouldn’t normally give. Perhaps, sending a photo collage, a family tree, personalized ornaments or fresh baked cookies with a loving note.
  • Display loved ones’ photos or light a candle for those who are missed this year.
  • Explore various mental health mobile apps available such as Calm, Insight Timer, Headspace or Mindfulness for a convenient resource that offers ways to manage intense feelings.
  • Stay active and spend time outdoors – it’s always beneficial and a great distraction when feeling lonely.
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