Written by Jill Perry, MS, NCC, LPC, CAADC, SAP, founder of JP Counseling

The Holiday Season is always a time of year that we look forward to: good food, shiny lights, hot chocolate, and time with family and friends. This year, however, the holiday season will look and feel different because of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still indulge in holiday cheer. The pandemic has changed our daily lifestyle, including work, school and socializing. The uncertainty of the virus, its long-term impact and the overall grieving of how different our lives look now have caused increases in mental health issues. Rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress have been on the rise, with our younger generations feeling the most impact. The holiday season, although different from previous years, can be an opportunity for each of us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones, especially when it comes to our mental health.

Traditions: Special foods, decorations and music, provide us with comfort and stability—something we can all use right about now. Rituals keep us grounded, especially when our lives get chaotic. Although flexibility and creativity will be needed, many of these traditions can continue this year.

Family & Friends: Often we see people at the holidays that we don’t get to see on a regular basis. Again, although this may be different this year, technology allows us to still connect with loved ones. Safe gatherings over Zoom or apps like House Party can provide much needed connection. These connections give us opportunities to catch up, reminisce and laugh—all important aspects of good mental health.

Powering Down: Although technology is helpful, it can also be a drain on our brain power. Taking advantage of times over the holiday season to turn off our phones, tablets and computers allows the brain to ‘rest.’ This is especially important for school and college students who may be attending classes virtually in addition to their already busy on-line lives.

Kindness: The holiday season is the perfect time to practice tolerance, compassion and goodwill. Acts of kindness, as a giver or receiver, increase levels of oxytocin or the “love hormone” in the brain adding to our positive feelings of well-being.

Holiday Spirit: The holidays alsogive us a reminder to connect to deeper, more spiritual aspects of our life. Mindful focus on the positive ‘spirit’ of the holidays builds our resiliency and optimism. Studies have shown that a connection to something more powerful than ourselves as individuals makes it easier to handle stress. Our communities are still adjusting to this ever-changing “new normal.” The pandemic, however, doesn’t have to overshadow our holiday season. Instead, let your holiday cheer improve mental health for you, your loved ones and the world! Happy Holidays!

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