Tips & Resources for A Safe & Connected Holiday Season

The holidays are typically a time for celebration and togetherness with family and friends but as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many of us will be experiencing the holiday season apart from our loved ones. However you choose to celebrate this year, it is important to take extra steps to care for yourself and your loved ones during this time. Below you will find tips and resources for celebrating safely while caring for your emotional well-being all season long.

Acknowledging Grief

Many of us have suffered losses this year: Whether that was the ultimate loss of a loved one, or other losses like an income and identity that comes from working, or milestones like graduations, weddings, and birthdays that looked much different than we planned and dreamt of.

If you have suffered a loss the holidays can be an especially challenging time, reminding you of loved ones who aren’t present, or increasing the awareness of economic hardships you may be facing from a job loss. Grief is a natural response to loss, but ideally it is a multi-stage process that you move through. When the grieving process becomes extended and complicated people can experience longer-term mental health problems like increased depression, anxiety, distress, as well as higher rates of substance use disorder and even suicide. So, how do you help yourself move through the grief?

Recognize Your Grief — First, you need to recognize it’s there. Name feelings specifically when they arise — are you feeling angry, scared, or embarrassed? Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel the feeling instead of pushing it away or numbing out.
Find Ways to Cope — Finding ways to cope with uncomfortable feelings when they come up is the next step. There are things you can do on your own in this time of physical separation that will build your ability to cope, like going for a walk, writing down your thoughts, meditating or praying.
Create a Community of Support — Creating a supportive environment for ourselves, even in times of physical distancing, can help the grieving process. Community support can come in many forms, whether it’s having open conversations about what we’re going through with the people you live with, calling and talking with a trusted friend, reaching out to peer supporters, or getting mental health support from a professional.

If you’re having difficulty finding enough emotional support or would like to talk to someone outside of your immediate circle, consider calling the California Peer-Run Warm Line (855-845-7415) for non-emergency emotional support 24/7.

If you are feeling suicidal (or if you are concerned about someone), there is help available right now. A trained counselor is ready to talk to you and provide help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7, confidential, free crisis counseling.

Check In With Yourself

One of 2020’s biggest lessons has been how important it is to be kind to ourselves when things are hard. Self-care is an important part of moving through grief, getting through difficult times, and restoring yourself so that you can show up for others. Now is a good time to check in on your self-care routine and see what additions or changes you can make. To get started, check out our self-care resources and keep these tips in mind:

  • Pick self-care strategies that seem fun, not things you think you “should” do. You’re more likely to do things that make you happy, and when you’re happy you’re more likely to do things that make you healthy. It’s a virtuous cycle.
  • Linking. Try adding your new habit to something that you already do routinely, like doing a 1-minute meditation after you brush your teeth, or taking a walk around the block after you get out of your car.
  • Make a safety net. There will be days when you just can’t. The important thing is not to “keep doing all the things” — that just makes self-care another stressor. Instead make yourself a list of nearly automatic things you can do to help yourself. What matters is that you keep the habit of caring for yourself in some way as a regular practice.
  • Consciously experience small moments of joy.  Research has found that small moments of positivity, the little things that make us happy throughout the day, can accumulate over time. A quick smile, a good laugh, a friendly hello, feeling touched by a kind word or gesture together form new pathways in our brains and as a result feelings of positivity and gratitude become easier the more we practice.

For folks with mental health challenges, and people recovering from trauma or living with chronic health conditions, a more comprehensive self-care planning approach may be helpful. Try Wellness Recovery Action Planning developed by Dr. Mary Ellen Copeland. For more tips on how to strengthen your self- care, check out this blog:

Make a Plan

If you are feeling especially stressed going into this holiday season, you are not alone. Feelings of depression and anxiety are associated with feelings of Powerlessness and/or lack of Predictability – two things many people are experiencing right now. Finding ways to increase feelings of power or increase predictability in our lives can help.

To increase feelings of predictability, try to stick with your routine as much as you can this month if things start to get chaotic. And, creating a plan for the holidays now will greatly help with reducing anxiety and increasing feelings of power and predictability. Check out these articles for guidance on celebrating safely this year:

To learn more about caring for your mental well-being throughout the holiday season, read these guides from NAMI and Mental Health America:

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with extra items on your to-do list, try taking back your power one minute at a time. Set a timer and tell yourself you only have to do the activity for 10 minutes if you’re finding it hard to get started. Completing even small tasks, such ask wrapping a couple of gifts or writing down your grocery list can provide disproportionate feelings of power. Engaging in small moments where you have the power to control things can even increase your feelings of self-efficacy in the long-term which can lead to better mental health.

Find Comfort in Traditions

Taking part in our favorite holiday traditions (while practicing physical distancing!) can help bring comfort and joy during an uncertain time. Now is the time to break out old favorites. If you’re feeling anxious re-watch a favorite holiday movie, make a playlist of your favorite holiday songs, cook the comfort food recipes as you normally would this time of year. All these experiences are predictable, comforting, and have associations with happier, more relaxed times. Try these out, or start a new tradition with Each Mind Matters sugar cookies in the recipe below!

Strengthen Your Interpersonal Effectiveness Skills

The holidays may look different this year, but in all likelihood you will still have increased interaction (even if it’s virtual) with family or friends. Spending extended periods of time with people who may not share your world views can be challenging any time, but more so during times of crisis and heightened emotion.

First and foremost, it is important to carve out time to care for yourself. Revisit our Coming Home for the Holidays blog for tips to care for your own emotional well-being during this time and check out the articles below for tips on setting boundaries to protect your mental health.

Before heading into that Zoom Family Reunion, take some time to boost your interpersonal skills so you can remain true to your values while also giving yourself the best chance of building more understanding in your relationships. 

Building interpersonal effectiveness can help us in more settings than just the dinner table. Learning how to be true to yourself while openly engaging with others is the foundation for working through conflict effectively, ultimately building more respectful relationships and stronger communities.

Looking Ahead

S. Kelley Harrell said, “We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.” As we look ahead to 2021, we may have less to share and still more hardships to face, but we can find ways to show up for one another. 

Giving help to others and engaging in mutual support — being vulnerable by asking for help when you need it (whether that’s emotional help, or financial or physical help) and finding ways to give support to someone else when you can — is one of the most healing things we can do.

For years, mutual aid programs have been championed by people from diverse communities to care for one another in times of crisis like these. Mutual aid calls for “solidarity not charity” — people helping other people, not for pay or praise, but caring for one another emotionally, physically and financially. You can find mutual aid programs near you by visiting this site.

For now, we still need to look for creative ways to stay connected while keeping our communities safe but that doesn’t mean we can’t invest in deepening and strengthening our relationships with families, friends and others in our lives. For tips on how to strengthen your connections with others learn more here:

May the experiences and hardships of this year bring wisdom, awareness of our own strength, and a deepened appreciation for how much we need one another as we look ahead with hope and renewed purpose for 2021.