December 14, 2020
by Kimberly Lucey
The pandemic has been trying for many people this year - compounding mental health issues for those already battling them, and unveiling new ones for people who may not have realized they were bubbling beneath the surface. Now, add in a holiday season away from friends and family, and things may get even tougher.
"Celebrating a holiday that is so important to our culture during this pandemic just sheds light on the things we miss most", says Dr. Samantha Dutton. "It may bring up feelings of isolation, anxiety, and loneliness. We may have been ignoring those feelings but then a holiday comes along and “bam” it feels like it just happened."
Dr. Dutton is the Associate Dean of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Phoenix. She says acknowledging that these feelings are happening and talking about them can be a big help. You may not realize how many other people are feeling the same way, and knowing you are not alone can be therapeutic. "Reach out to your family and friends", says Dr. Dutton. "They are most likely feeling those senses of loss as well. Do not isolate yourself. If your phone rings, answer it. Someone needs you. You may not know your worth, but I guarantee someone out there knows it. Be proactive and reach out to those that may be alone."
This unusual holiday season can also be the year you may start new traditions, perhaps a silver lining through all this chaos. Dr. Dutton says it's common for holiday gatherings to morph over the years, with some traditions hanging on, while others are let go. If there's a tradition that's really important to you, perhaps a holiday toast, you can continue that over video chat. You can use that technology to host a holiday book club, or a virtual ugly sweater party. If you want to start a new tradition like a decorating or recipe contest, go for it! And take advantage of the slower pace of the holiday season this time around. If year after year you've been meaning to send out holiday cards with thoughtful notes, this is the year to finally do it. With fewer social gatherings, you won't have to set aside time for a last minute panic shopping.
Experts always talk about overindulging during the holidays, but Dr. Dutton says this year it's especially important. "Remember, physical health and mental health are intertwined", she says. "Practice healthy habits like taking a walk outside and eating nourishing foods." Be kind to yourself, and understand that this lack of physical contact does affect us mentally. Physical contact is vital for the human species. A touch can mean so much. Once again, acknowledge to yourself and others that you really do want to hug and hold hands but also understand that the real love comes from not doing those things. It is a sacrifice for the greater good that you are willing to do without touch (for now)."
About the Author
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.