Stress less: How to soothe your anxiety over COVID-19 holidays

November 19, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season alone can bring added stress and anxiety. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions and a particularly heated election and it’s easy to see how anxiety and stress this holiday season could be at heightened levels.

“More than 80 percent of the people I see for weekly therapies have two major concerns: COVID-19 and the election results,” says Joann Wright, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Linden Oaks Medical Group. “Between the two there’s just a really big spike in anxiety near the holidays.”

So how can you get through the stress of figuring out how to handle family get-togethers — or deciding whether you should even get together with extended family?

Note: On Nov. 19, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on holiday gatherings and recommended limiting get-togethers to only those who live in the same household.

Dr. Wright offers a few tips:

  • Realize things won’t be perfect or even the same as last year. Part of acceptance and commitment therapy involves accepting the things you can’t change and committing to a value-driven action, says Dr. Wright. So, for example, you may not get to have that holiday dinner with your extended family. But you can still find ways to be together at that holiday dinner. Try a Zoom call where everyone brings a favorite dish and shares the recipe or everyone plays a game.
  • Identify what you value. For example, gatherings are about seeing family and friends. If your sister is asking that people wear a mask to come to dinner, wear the mask. If you don’t want to send everyone running for the hills because you and your uncle are at again debating politics, make a pact in advance not to talk politics to keep the family peace and the time together enjoyable.
  • Be assertive. It might be surprising to hear, but asserting yourself can be a form of self-care. Letting others know your expectations in advance can help lower stress levels this holiday season and can be a key component in staying healthy.

“Asserting yourself can be difficult, but not asserting yourself in these times can be dangerous,” says Dr. Wright.

If you’re hosting your in-laws or a close family friend, let them know in advance that you’ll be following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on social distancing and face coverings. Consider phrasing such as “I really look forward to spending time with you. To protect your health and mine, I’m asking everyone to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.”

If you’ve been invited to a gathering that makes you uncomfortable (perhaps they will not be following CDC guidelines or it is a larger gathering), Dr. Wright suggests politely letting your host know you cannot attend or that you’ll be dropping by to say hello but will remain outdoors.

  • Get creative. We all miss hugs from our friends and family. Consider a special hand signal or sign to show your affection for your friends or family members. You can also find things you and your household members can do together (such as baking, making special crafts or going to drive-thru holiday light displays) to help make the holiday season special. You can adapt your activities to include extended family members. For example, make plans to go to a holiday light drive thru display together, in separate cars, and have everyone on speaker phone at the same time as you go through the display.
  • Don’t forget the old standbys. Setting a budget in advance and sticking to it, getting enough rest, eating healthy and exercising can all help make your holidays less stressful.

In some cases, holiday stress and anxiety can be overwhelming. Linden Oaks Behavioral Health has therapists who can help. To make an appointment, call 630-647-8000.

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