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Coping with the Emotional Challenges of a COVID Holiday Season

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Coping skills can help you manage this holiday season. Photo shows woman holding a lighted candle near a window.Coping with the holiday season can be tough under normal circumstance, but the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the stress and anxiety. The season magnifies the loss and isolation so many have experienced in 2020. For some of us, it may feel insurmountable. NewBridge Services offers advice on managing — and even enjoying — the holidays this year. 

“More than ever, we need to shift our expectations, and focus on what brings us peace,” NewBridge CEO Michelle Borden. “Feeling gratitude for all the goodness in our lives can be incredibly powerful; I think of it as exercising our `hope’ muscle,” added Borden, a licensed clinical social worker.

In past years, overbooked calendars and increased obligations contributed to holiday stress. This year, the absence of traditional gatherings and activities may be what does a number on your emotions. 

“It is natural to feel disappointed by COVID-canceled gatherings and travel, and you can and should acknowledge the loss, and then make a plan to move on,” Borden said. Those who lost a loved one or who were financially devastated by the pandemic are undoubtedly dealing with a deep grief that will require extended time and possibly professional support to overcome.

That said, all of us can benefit from self-care tips:

Get centered. Sitting quietly and taking deep inhales and slow exhales is an instantaneous stress reliever. Close your eyes and let your shoulders drop while you focus on your breathing. Do it for a minute, and work up to five minutes or more. 

Give meditation a try. Meditation, which has different forms, eases anxiety and has other health benefits. Check out NewBridge Services’ repository of pandemic resources, including articles on meditation.

Practice gratitude. Create a daily routine of reflecting on the goodness in your life. You may want to sit quietly and offer thanks, or perhaps keep a gratitude journal.

Reach out to friends and family. With in-person gatherings posing a health risk, virtual gatherings are a safe alternative, and can be fun. Catch up by phone with people you’ve lost touch with, or grab a pen and paper and help revive the lost art of letter-writing!  

Get moving. Exercise doesn’t have to be dull or difficult, and there’s plenty of free resources available online. Or just turn up some music and dance!

Pursue your interests. Indulge in activities you never seem to get to: bake an elaborate cake, prepare a favorite meal, play games, explore new hobbies, read books, plan a vacation, enroll in an online course, etc…

Take in the lights. Go for a drive (or walk) and enjoy the light displays in your community.

Get outside. When you dress for the weather, it’s a pleasure to take in some fresh air. 

Set a budget for gift-giving. Don’t overspend and wind up with regrets in January.

Don’t overindulge on food or alcohol. That just makes you feel bad about yourself, and gives you more to deal with in the new year.

Connect with your spirituality. Many places of worship are offering online services.

Donate to a cause you care about. It feels good to help others in need.

Focus on the positive: With vaccines rolling out, the end of the pandemic is coming. Let that knowledge buoy your spirits. 

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health & Addiction Agencies (NJAMHAA) is offering a free hourlong Winter Wellness Planning session on Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 11 a.m., on self-care strategies. Register here. If you are struggling with anxiety, NewBridge can provide professional help. Call (973) 316-9333 or visit newbridge.org.

“This year’s holiday season won’t be like others, but when we accept that as OK, we make room for peace and joy,” Borden said.

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