The arrival of Thanksgiving means we have officially entered the holiday season. And with the holiday of gratitude (and eating) now behind us, we look ahead to the season of giving — followed closely by the time of self-reflection and renewal that comes with the arrival of the new year.

The holiday season can be a pretty stressful six weeks of planning, shopping, cooking, extra errands, holiday events and more. But with the pandemic showing no signs of abating, one might wonder: will the holidays make the day-to-day stress and worry of the pandemic worse, or will the requirements for being safe in a pandemic make the holidays more stressful?

The pandemic has added a layer of stress to everyone’s life – the disruption of routines, cancellations, remembering to bring a mask with you, social distancing, and thinking carefully about going anywhere there might be a crowd. Certainly, most people have adapted to these new realities, but things seemed a lot easier when we didn’t have to think about all that.

Because learning to manage stress is important for mental and physical health, I want to share some tips from the Mayo Clinic about coping with stress from the holidays and COVID (and anything else life might bring).

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently passed or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to feel sad or express your feelings. Talking with someone close to you can offer relief and support.

♦ Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. Many organizations have websites, online support groups, social media or virtual events. Connect with family members with a text, call or video chat.

♦ Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect. As families change and grow, traditions often change as well — be open to creating new ones. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate. It may take some creativity, but it is worth it to make sure no one feels left out or isolated during this time.

♦ Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are and set aside discussions for a more appropriate time. Be understanding if others get upset when something goes awry — they’re likely feeling stress too. It may be best just not to engage if conversations become laden with conflict.

♦ Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford and stick to your budget. You can’t buy happiness with gifts.

♦ Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities, and make sure to line up help for meal prep, cleanup and other holiday chores. Good planning and organization go a long way towards reducing the stress this season may bring.

♦ Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate, especially this year.

♦ Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to stress and guilt. Make time for sleep and exercise and don’t turn to alcohol or drugs to cope.

♦ Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do.

♦ Seek professional help if you need it. If you find you’re persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

Regardless of how you spend your holidays or which holiday you celebrate, I hope some of these ideas are helpful in finding the right balance for enjoying the season while also staying safe. I wish you a happy and healthy holidays!

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of Northwest Georgia.

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