The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
To paraphrase the 1951 holiday carol by “Music Man” composer Meredith Willson, “It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.” Or, is it? The year 2020 has been anything but normal and the end of the year holidays will not be immune from this year’s COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis.
Instead of experiencing pleasant anticipation for the holidays, current conditions are causing many people to feel grief over losing traditions and connections, uncertainty about what the future will bring, guilt for not coming to gatherings or being able to buy presents because of lost wages. In fact, nearly 70% of all Americans report being stressed because of COVID-19, according to a poll conducted by Harris for the American Psychological Association.
Even more concerning is that the buildup of emotions such as loneliness, anxiety and low self-worth resulting from the pandemic are contributing to an unprecedented wave of fatal drug overdoses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That disturbing trend is likely to continue through the holidays.
Fortunately, there are coping strategies we can adopt now to help lift the heavy shroud of stressors in time for the holidays, and that can lead us onto paths filled with hope.
— Recognize that the holidays will be different this year. Have candid, respectful, loving conversations with loved ones about everyone’s expectations. Come to understandings about each individual’s comfort level for participating in — or not — family gatherings and accept with grace each person’s decision.
— Pay attention to the fundamentals of wellness: healthful diet, plenty of exercise and sleep.
— Revisit an old hobby to take your mind off negative thoughts.
— Welcome mindfulness into your life. Unplug from your devices; be in the moment and focus on gratitude.
— If you can’t see loved ones in person, volunteer at a nonprofit that is near and dear to you. If you’re in a position to give, donate to a food shelf or buy toys for kids in need. Giving back can bring peace, joy and happiness.
— Enjoy the beauty of nature, which can give you a different perspective of where we are in the grand scheme of the world.
— Spend time with your pets if you have them. It’s hard to feel lonely when you’re getting puppy kisses.
— Connect with others however you can — virtually by Zoom or Facetime, through phone calls, sending out holiday cards if that’s what you’d normally do.
— Have fun by creating new traditions. The only limit is your imagination: Hold a socially distanced caroling event in your neighborhood. If you live in an area with snow, hold a socially distanced snowman making contest with neighbors who are also staying home this year.
— Ease loneliness in loved ones by helping them identify how they’re feeling if they don’t know how to name their emotions. Emphasize that they are not alone in feeling the way they do.
If you suspect loved ones are abusing substances, but can’t be physically near them for the holidays, reach out to them frequently. Encourage them to connect with their therapist or physician if they have one. Point them to resources such as local, online 12-step meetings or use the SAMHSA Treatment Locater: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-treatment. For additional resources, visit https://www.sierratucson.com/about/alumni/resources/.
It’s OK to ask for help. We believe, that with so many of us struggling, the stigma of asking for help is thinning. More than anything, the “holiday spirit” this year gives all of us an opportunity to remake connections and seek support in novel ways that could spark new, even more meaningful ways to experience the joy of the holiday season.
Dr. Valerie Kading, DNP, MBA, MSN, PMHNP-BC, is chief executive officer for the Tucson-based behavioral health treatment facility Sierra Tucson.