Stress – it’s an unavoidable part of life and seemingly an unavoidable side effect of the holiday season. The pressure of purchasing the perfect gifts while staying within your budget, a calendar full of social gatherings (or Zoom celebrations, as may be the case this year) and the reduced time spent exercising and sleeping lead to increased stress levels.
But this year, the hustle and bustle of the holidays is different. Many – if not all – of us have been living with high levels of chronic stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the national reckoning of racial injustice, financial concerns triggered by furloughs and layoffs, the blurred lines between work and home life and social isolation driven by physical distancing. In fact, 38% of adults surveyed report symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder, up 11% from 2019. We’ve entered a historically stressful time of year with already monumental levels of anxiety and limited access to the support systems we rely on to manage these complex emotions.
Even before the difficult events of 2020, the loneliness epidemic was growing. According to a study conducted by Cigna, 54% of adults surveyed reported feeling lonely in 2018, increasing to 61% in 2019. Now, even those who may not have experienced regular bouts of loneliness are struggling with maintaining strong social connections or accessing mental health care. For those who are left to spend the holidays without loved ones, whether they lack a social support network or are unable to physically connect with family and friends, these feelings of isolation are amplified.
While it may not be possible for family and friends to gather as they typically would this time of year, there are plenty of ways to spread feelings of joy and good cheer to combat holiday isolation.
Social distancing has led to social isolation, exacerbating the existing mental health crisis for all age groups. A quick check-in over Zoom or FaceTime lacks the comfort of being in the physical presence of loved ones. Older family members who aren’t familiar with using these digital tools on their own – particularly those in nursing homes – are experiencing even more intense loneliness and isolation than they typically would this time of year.
Rather than give into loneliness, consider this an opportunity to build new, safe holiday traditions. Finding creative ways to stay connected can help us cope with the physical separation that we’ve been experiencing for most of 2020 and can bring dispersed families and friends together, wherever they are.
- Best thing to combat stress? Laughter. As we head into the holidays and New Year, let’s make a conscious effort to make each other laugh more.
- Reach out to someone you know is alone for the holidays and let them know you’re thinking of them. A simple phone call can make a big difference in their day.
- Engage in random acts of kindness. Research shows that people feel happier and more fulfilled when helping others.
- Create a playlist to share with your loved ones.
- Plan a Zoom movie or game night.
- Exchange favorite holiday recipes to get a comforting taste of the season.
- Find a safe way to volunteer in your local community.
Practice gratitude daily:
Although it can be difficult to focus on the positives in life when things aren’t going our way, gratitude is a powerful tool we can use to get through hard times. Research shows that the simple act of smiling can actually make us happier; furthermore, gratitude can inspire more positive emotions and help us find strength in the face of adversity.
Try writing down 3-5 things that bring you comfort or joy at the end of each day to improve your overall mood and wellbeing. We know that may be easier said than done – these resources can help you uncover the good things in life:
- Give our virtual gratitude dice a roll and land on a mindful activity to inspire a good mood, whenever you need it.
- Gain insight into the science behind positivity and gratitude from renowned Yale psychology professor and happiness expert, Dr. Laurie Santos.
- Learn how positive, healthy habits can boost happiness and inspire widespread change.
Mindfulness is key to building resilience, a skill that will help all of us overcome the stressful events of 2020. Resilient people tend to be healthier overall, experiencing better mental health and lower levels of stress and burnout – so how do we get there?
There are plenty of quick, simple strategies that can be utilised anytime, anywhere to help with centering the mind and improving one’s mental state.
- Limit multitasking to focus on the current moment.
- Practice loving-kindness meditation.
- Focus on and control your breathing, especially during times of high stress.
- Get into a relaxed mindset with our virtual mindfulness dice.
Spend time practicing self-care:
We hear the word “self-care” a lot, but what does self-care actually mean? Self-care encompasses any activity we willingly engage in to support our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and it looks different for each person, depending on individual needs and preferences. According to Dr. Laurie Santos, self-care may look a little different than what one might expect. By prioritising helping others, we can improve our own levels of happiness more than we would by focusing solely on our own needs.
Self-care also encompasses the things we do to keep ourselves healthy, since our mental health is closely connected to our physical health. Besides doing nice things for friends, family or members of our community, we can also get a mood boost from regularly engaging in healthy lifestyle habits, such as:
- Getting regular physical activity – yes, walking counts!
Looking to mix up your workout? Try our virtual exercise dice!
- Eating a well-balanced diet.
- Drinking plenty of water and reducing sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Making sleep a priority.
As we navigate this not-so-normal holiday season and prepare to head into a new year, our health and wellbeing should be a top priority. Fortunately, mindfulness and positivity are skills that can be learned through simple repetition. Just like smiling, the act of engaging in these habits can improve our mood, our health and our holiday season.