With Thanksgiving around the corner, it will be a different season for everyone. You may be away from home this year when you’re usually together with your family, or you may still be spending time with a smaller group of people, with extra safety precautions; this supposedly festive season is clouded by the shadow of the pandemic.
Along with all of this, you may also be feeling some holiday stress -- with reconciling whether to go to a friend’s gathering or to remain socially distanced, deciding how much to spend on that Thursday night meal, or getting stressed about putting a fake smile in front of people when times are definitely rough. You’re not alone -- one study found that 62% of people also have the holiday blues and feel stress during seasons like Thanksgiving.
There are three quick coping tips I want to share with you if you’re facing these stressful situations this Thanksgiving:
1) Recognize that there are other virtual ways to connect with your loved ones during this holiday without needing to see them in person.
Most of you have probably changed your original plans to opt for a safer Thanksgiving this year. You may be spending this holiday alone, have had to cancel flights, or are quarantining back home after your travels for the safety of your family. These changes in themselves may have caused you to feel stressed and anxious. In addition to that, there will be smaller, or even no gatherings; and all of this may cause you to feel lonely especially with the social-distancing we have experienced for the past eight months.
However, despite all of these changes, there is not much stopping you from checking in on someone as you normally would before the world turned virtual. Whether it’s video-calling someone, doing a Zoom dinner with extended family, or a virtual baking session with your friends. These online social interactions will help you feel less lonely and foster those meaningful connections you have. You can also get creative with these new ways of interaction through the screen-- for example, you can make a “best Zoom background” competition or have Thanksgiving-themed backgrounds!
While no call will compensate for an actual hug, reaching out to someone who is also longing to have a conversation, will benefit both of you. Hopefully by next November we will have returned to a time when meeting up with each other in person is safe.
2) Know your boundaries and communicate them. It’s okay to say “NO”.
It’s important for you to communicate with those around you about what you’re comfortable with in terms of social interaction. If you’re uncomfortable with attending a larger gathering, explain your perspective to other people so that they understand your choices. . It’s better to be clear with them in advance, rather than giving yourself additional stress leading up to the gathering.
Contrastingly, if someone decides not to show up to your planned event, do not be offended or disappointed. Even if you are following each recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outline for gathering, people (may even be within your family) have different risk preferences and varying degrees of anxiety when it comes to the virus.
Communicating your decisions and aligning your expectations to others will release any tension you may have previously held in. Not only will this minimize any miscommunications or conflict this Thanksgiving, but also help protect your mental health from any additional lingering stressful thoughts.
3) Remember to find rest this Thanksgiving and take care of yourself and your mental health.
Take this holiday as an opportunity for you to take a break from work and reset. Working from home has blurred the lines between your personal life and work life. In fact, a study of 3.1 million people around the world showed that our work days during the pandemic is now 48 minutes longer! It’s easy to keep your computer logged in when you're in your bedroom to finish that one or two extra tasks.
Use this break to actively rest, especially if your body is telling you to do so. And one way to intentionally rest is to sleep earlier. People tend to sleep less during holiday seasons like Thanksgiving due to all the planning and preparation beforehand. However, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule will also help maintain a more positive mood and a better mental health. If you really don’t have the time to take a few hours off to sleep, I recommend you spending 15 minutes by yourself in a quiet space, whether to reflect on your past week, think of happy memories, or let your mind rest.
Also, taking care of yourself means knowing what makes most sense for you and how to prioritize. Rather than doing things that are for the sake of it, ask yourself if that particular activity is something you want to spend your time and effort on. Observe how you react when thinking about the activity - Are you dreading it? Are you always thinking about it in a way that makes you anxious? Or alternatively, excited? Know what is important to prioritize the activities that will benefit your mental health -- those that bring you joy and meaning to your life.
During this holiday season, taking care of yourself is also a form of celebration.