Meeting the COVID holiday season with Resilience

Meeting the COVID holiday season with Resilience

Written by: Jessica Lenth, MSW,LCSW

This year, the holiday season will look different. The pandemic and resulting distancing guidelines are sadly changing how we celebrate the holidays and who we celebrate them with. Celebrations are smaller, traditions may be broken. People who live alone or far from family, or who have lost loved ones, may find holidays especially difficult. Our mental health has suffered resulting from the impact of COVID-19 to our lives and how we live them. The rates of depression and anxiety have drastically spiked, we are isolated, and now that it has affected even the holidays can take a further emotional toll on us.

Holidays may not be the same, however, human beings are built to deal with crisis. We are equipped with skills and inherent tools to take action that positively impacts our mental and physical health. It is called resilience. Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity. Typically referred to as ‘bouncing back,’ it also means adopting positive emotions. Becoming resilient not only helps you work through difficult times, but also helps grow and improve your life, as you believe in yourself and learn to cope to the best of your abilities. Building resilience skills can help protect your mental health, crucial when going into our first holiday season of an unprecedented pandemic. The following strategies can help build and maintain resilience through this unique holiday season:

Acknowledge your feelings~ Expressing, tolerating, and sharing emotions with others builds resilience. Rather than hiding or dismissing them, acknowledge how you feel and know that it is OK to take time to feel sad, angry, disappointed, etc. from the limitations the pandemic puts on the holidays and your plans. Move through your feelings, which will help you move forward.

Adopt radical acceptance~ The term radical means complete and total. When added to the idea of acceptance, it asks us to (completely, totally) accept the current reality we find ourselves in -an unprecedented pandemic. Acceptance can seem difficult now given the circumstances, but what is important to know is that we can accept reality as it is, without approving it. Radical acceptance does not mean agreeing with or liking something. It means acknowledging that things are not what we want them to be, and then despite it, finding ways to live and even thrive. We must accept what is before we can change. This is how things are right now. So, resilience comes when we radically accept change must happen, that we must practice social distancing at this time, and alter how we celebrate the holidays.

Cultivate gratitude~ With all we have lost this year, it may be hard to feel grateful. But the positive is that the holidays are also a time when gratitude is front and center, and evidence has shown that gratitude helps people through hard times. Finding gratitude is key to resilience. Practicing it regularly trains your mind to succeed in adversity. At a time like this, being able to count your blessings, and reminding ourselves that all is not lost, is huge.

➢ Some examples how to practice gratitude:
• At the end of the day, think or write what you are fortunate for, what went well that day, even a ‘yay!’ simple moment. Whether alone or when with family, use holiday time to examine things that helped you or that you have done to have a good time despite the pandemic. Review what you thought, did, what made life meaningful.
• Thinking of things that remained unchanged despite the impact of COVID-19 can strengthen our mindset. You have likely heard of gratefulness as a coping mechanism before, but it is repeated here because GRATITUDE WORKS.

Shift your perspective~ Changing how you see things builds resilience. Consider viewing the pandemic as though it is an ordinary part of your life now, (unfortunate, but it is the new normal), instead of ongoing disappointments. Look at and work on what you can control (your response, virtual ways to still be together) and what you cannot (that this a pandemic). Put energy into the things you can. The experience of control gives resilience and therefore strength to cope.

Regulate your emotions~ Emotional regulation is both vital and successful to adapting in the face of adversity. Getting more in touch with your feelings is one way to begin to regulate emotions. Asking yourself how you are really feeling and identifying emotions can be quite helpful. Once you name it, you can tame it. Talking through our thoughts decrease their intensity. *Saying positive affirmations to yourself can ease some strong feelings you may be experiencing about having to break tradition, not be with loved ones this holiday season, not do favorite activities, etc.

Connect with others~ Maintaining social supports is key to maintaining resilience. Use this holiday season to strengthen, honor, treasure, and/or restore relationships. Changing our typical plans could mean a good opportunity to reach out to others you might not otherwise connect with, and who may be alone. The more we contribute to building and keeping connections with others, the more fight back against depression & anxiety the COVID holiday season could bring.

Keep a routine~ While it is often common to sleep in over the holiday break, and schedules go by the wayside, be mindful of trying to still stick to a routine. Whether it is just taking a few quiet minutes for yourself in the morning, keeping up with good hygiene, making sure you take your medication, A routine provides the foundation for resilience. Consistency helps minimize mental health symptoms that many are experiencing now and can prevent them from worsening. The holidays can be a difficult time of the year anyway for those who are isolated, and the pandemic has made our emotions heavier, so a routine, however small, is so important.

Review your strengths & past resiliency~ –Reflecting on tools and techniques you have within you is valuable when dealing with stress or change. Analyze what your strengths are and utilize them regularly. Think back over the times in your life when you’ve succeeded with other stressful life situations. Were there other holidays that did not go as planned? Other times you were disappointed you could not celebrate something? What did you do? What can you apply now? What did you say to yourself? How did you get through it?

Be good to yourself~ Get good sleep, eat well (moderation is key when it comes to holiday desserts), exercise, meditate, practice mindfulness. Wellness gives you strength to deal with adversity. Engaging in activities that increase positive emotions help strengthen resilience.

Stick to your beliefs and be prepared for others~ There may be differing opinions on how to handle the holidays, thoughts on distancing guidelines, amount of people getting together, etc. Being true to your values/beliefs while being amenable to those of others keeps you grounded.

Seek help~ Another way to help build up your resilience is through counseling. A counselor can validate your feelings as well as provide helpful stress management techniques. Dealing with things like challenges, the feelings of isolation and changes of the holiday season, with the help of a trained professional, is far easier than going it alone. Simply, we bounce back faster with help. It can be a real beneficial experience speaking with a neutral third party, and in ‘unpacking’ the stress and concerns you have all been having, even if you are not ‘in a bad place.’

Know that This Is Not Permanent~ Even though the holidays are different this year, they will not always be this way. This Too Shall Pass.

Enjoy the moments with your loved ones, even if it is a little different this year.

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