The holidays can be stressful and harmful to mental health even in normal years… and 2020 is anything but normal. COVID-19 has impacted mental health in all sorts of ways, from sudden interpersonal loss to disruption of social bonds to financial anxiety.
Thanksgiving kicks off a season when many people have strong feelings of isolation and depression. With many of us separated from loved ones, the pain and pressures of this past year can dominate our thoughts and test our coping mechanisms.
Here are some suggestions for protecting your mental health at this critical moment:
Socialize (safely) with friends and family.
It’s not the same as seeing people in person, but FaceTime or Zoom or any other platform that lets you engage with the people in your life from a distance can be of enormous value to your emotional wellbeing. Get creative! If you are able, arrange meeting with friends at a 6 feet distance, outside—maybe go for a walk around the neighborhood. Spending time outdoors can also be a great stress reliever.
Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Spending extended periods of time alone and indoors, your sleep patterns can become disrupted, blurring the days. Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night by going to sleep and wake up at consistent times that afford you sufficient hours of rest, but don’t let sleep become the major activity of your day. Focus on healthy eating.
Historically, Americans gain about a pound over the holidays. But in 2020, anecdotal evidence suggests we may be packing on a lot more due to ongoing COVID-19 safer-at-home practices. Stay focused and make healthy eating a priority. This year especially, avoid over-indulging in sugary sweets and high-calorie foods.
People tend to drink much more alcohol when they are stressed out or upset. If you plan to drink, keep track of how much you're consuming. No more than 2 drinks for men, 1 drink for women is recommended. Heavy drinking tends to weaken your immune system, making it harder to fight off infections and illness. Stay hydrated by drinking one cup of water to every alcoholic beverage you have, and never drink on an empty stomach.
Moderate exercise boosts the immune system. Try to do at least one active thing every day, even if it's just going for a brisk walk to soak up a little vitamin D. Join a holiday-themed walk-a-thon or socially distant challenge. Or download an app that has quick five-minute exercises. Whatever little thing you can do to get your blood flowing, do it! It'll be good for your body and help improve your mood, too -- another thing that tends to decline during the holidays.
Most important of all: Do not hesitate to ask for help. If your mental health is interrupting your daily activity and you can’t find relief, reach out to your healthcare provider. There are many resources available, and you are not alone.