The holiday season can bring about a variety of emotions. For some, the holidays serve as a time for celebration, joy, and warmth. For others, it can be a challenging time with added stressors, financial concerns, loneliness, or mourning. According to a study conducted by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in 2014, 64% of individuals with a mental illness reported that the holidays made their symptoms or conditions at least somewhat worse. This study was of course conducted in a non-pandemic year. Celebrating the holidays in 2020 may look very different and could proliferate mental health symptoms due to isolation from family and loved ones and concerns about health and safety.
With Thanksgiving coming up this week and the December holidays and New Year's soon after, there are many things we can do to stay connected with others, keep stress levels low, and cope with the pandemic holiday blues. Below are some suggestions from Mayo Clinic on how to cope with isolation or stress during the holidays:
Look for support in local or religious communities if you're feeling isolated. Many offer virtual support groups, social media sites, and other virtual events. NAMI offers free support groups for both people with mental health conditions and family members, partners, and friends of people with mental health conditions. You can find more information about these groups and other resources at https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Support-Groups.
Talk with someone you trust over text, phone call or video call if you're feeling stressed over the holidays.
Expand friendships and lift your spirits by volunteering your time or doing something to help others, like mailing a care package or dropping off food at a family member's or friend's home.
NAMI also has many tips for maintaining good health, physically and mentally, over the holiday season this year. Some of their suggestions include:
Accept your needs: recognize what your triggers might be to help you prepare for potentially stressful situations over the holidays.
Set boundaries: try to limit exposure to things that may cause added stress. It is okay to say "no" to plans that will not make you feel good or fit your schedule.
Practice relaxation: take a break to calm yourself via meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation.
Exercise: schedule a fun physical activity like taking a socially distant walk with others, biking, or joining a virtual dance class, all of which can help produce stress-relieving hormones.
Eat well and get enough sleep: eating and sleeping well can help with stabilizing your mood.
Keep up or seek therapy: talking with a mental health professional may help if you're feeling overwhelmed by the holidays or need help pinpointing triggers and creating an action plan.
Mental Health Resources
This link provides a list of NAMI affiliates in Pennsylvania that are offering virtual support groups, as well as a list of independent support groups in Pittsburgh: https://www.namikeystonepa.org/support/support-groups/
This link has many resources related to COVID-19, such as helplines and crisis lines, education on topics affecting youth & COVID-19, a comprehensive information guide, and PA-specific resources: https://www.namikeystonepa.org/coronavirus/