Meeting the COVID holiday season with Resilience
Jessica Lenth, MSW,LCSW
Clinical Lead, In-Home Counseling Services
Behavioral Health Consultant, PCC Community Wellness Center
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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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 we fight back against depression & anxiety the COVID holiday season could bring.
5. 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 have 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?
6. 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 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.’
And lastly, 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.