Mental health during the holidays

Updated November 24, 2020

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Thanksgiving dinner

For many people, the holidays can be an especially hard time. Coping with isolation and loneliness during the holidays was difficult even before COVID-19 began. Many people will be more isolated than usual this year, and many families will be experiencing their first holiday season since losing a loved one. A lot of us may experience additional stress as we make decisions about changing family gatherings or traditions to stay safer.

Holidays are mile markers in our lives when we mark loss and change. If a loved one has died in the last year, whether from COVID-19 or not, holidays can often be a time when a new wave of grief comes on because we are surrounded by events, rituals, people, and places that remind us of that person. The season might also be a time when we realize that our hopes and expectations for this year were dramatically changed. These are painful things to get through. It’s OK if we need extra support this year.

These challenges can be even more difficult for some people because of year-round systemic inequities. Some people have been more exposed to the virus because they are unable to work remotely, while others have lost their jobs. The stress of being uninsured or unable to afford basic needs like child care can be particularly poignant this year. These types of inequities disproportionately impact traditionally marginalized communities, and people of color, especially, are suffering from higher rates of COVID-19. 

If you feel depression, despair, anxiety, grief, or hopelessness during this holiday season, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you get through this time. There are many people who want to help, and many things you can do to help you cope.

Candle
Honoring a loved one who has passed away
  • Be aware special days won't be the same and may be difficult.

  • Decorate with a special ornament or light a special candle that reminds you of the person you have lost.

  • Read a book, listen to music, cook a favorite meal, or do another seasonal activity that your loved one would enjoy.

  • Stay connected as much as you can to supportive people. Share your thoughts and feelings about the person you have lost.

  • Give yourself permission to grieve. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and no timeline for these feelings. Take as much time and space as you need.

  • When supporting others who have experienced the loss of a loved one, keep in mind that people who are grieving often get unhelpful messages to “get over it.” Offer them a listening ear if they want to talk. Do not rush them (or yourself) through the grief process.

Holding hands
Taking care of yourself and building resilience
  • Take time every day to do something that makes you happy. Play music you like, watch a favorite movie, cook a favorite food, or do one of your favorite hobbies. It's OK to have moments of happiness, joy, hope, and relief, even during a challenging disaster.

  • Use your sense of humor where you can. Seek out things that make you laugh.

  • Avoid additional stress. Keep your expectations around the holidays flexible and manageable, and consider doing less than usual this year. Limit social interactions to the ones that will give you more comfort than stress.

  • Take care of your physical health to support your mental health. Find ways to exercise or keep your body moving in other ways. Make sure to drink enough water and get enough sleep. Limit how much alcohol you consume.

  • Practice gratitude. Consider keeping a journal where you write down all the things you are grateful for.

  • Stay connected. Reach out to friends and family if possible, or call a support line if you need to talk.

  • Connect with nature. Enjoy a walk outside, go on a hike or a bike ride, or take a moment to look out your window at the stars.

  • Do what you can to help others. Many people will need extra support this holiday season. Consider delivering food to a food drive or pantry, donating clothes or home goods to a charitable cause, or leaving a note on your neighbors’ doorsteps to let them know you are thinking of them. 

  • Seek out professional help whenever you need it. If you find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, irritable, or hopeless, consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional.

For more information about taking care of yourself and your loved ones this holiday season, see the following resources: