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Managing Mental Health During the Holidays, COVID-19

Managing Mental Health During the Holidays, COVID-19

Let’s be honest, the holiday season is stressful every year.

From the hustle and bustle of shopping to having family in town, there’s a lot to make us anxious in the month of December. This year, a global pandemic is also causing anxiety to run even higher.

In addition to the holidays and COVID-19, many people also experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). April Lubkemann, LCSW, says symptoms of SAD can include sudden sadness, fatigue, hopelessness, and depression.

Lubkemann works in Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital in Woodstock, VA. Her patients are 55 years and older, with the average patient around 72 years old.

“There’s a lot of depression because of the lack of light during the winter months,” Lubkemann says. “Most people don’t even understand that they’re dealing with that. Adding COVID-19 compounds the depression they are experiencing because of SAD and isolation. Older people are worried if this is what their last holiday is going to look like.”

While visiting loved ones this holiday season may not be a possibility, there are several things you can do to help ease the feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“Right now, people just need a sense of community. They feel like they need other people to verbalize what they are going through and validate that they aren’t going through their thoughts and feelings alone. If you can’t do this in person, find ways you can get it online.”

Lubkemann offers these tips to help your relatives feel less isolated:

  • Hold a Zoom gathering with your family every week.
  • Check in using FaceTime or Skype so family members can see your face. This is also a great way to read their emotions.
  • Use communication apps like Marco Polo or WhatsApp to keep in touch. These apps allow you to call, text, and leave video messages for free.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) adds these helpful tips:

  • Reframe “I am stuck inside” to “I can finally focus on my home and myself.
  • Stay close to your normal routine.
  • Avoid obsessing over endless Coronavirus coverage
  • A chaotic home can lead to a chaotic mind. With all the uncertainty happening outside your home, keep the inside organized, predictable and clean.
  • Start a new quarantine ritual. For example, perhaps you can start a daily journal to jot down thoughts and feelings to reflect on later.
  • Use telehealth as an option to talk to a professional if your anxiety becomes unmanageable.

Lubkemann says even before COVID-19, grief is a common concern during the holiday season. Memories of loved ones who have passed away can become stronger during this time. She suggests creating a journal to keep track of what you are grateful for.

“Start with one thing every day that you are grateful for. Don’t just think about it, but write it down so you have evidence later. Maybe you are grateful for seeing something beautiful, like a sunset or a sunrise.”

There is also a sense of sadness that can come with holidays that don’t seem ideal or the way they traditionally have been. For most of us, this will be particularly true in 2020.

“We are taught by the media and cultural beliefs that the holidays should be perfect, but what does perfect look like? I have a lot of people who wish their family was normal and could get together like a Hallmark movie. But we want to empower people to create their own normal, and be satisfied with that.”

While the ‘hustle and bustle’ of the holidays may be less than previous years due to travel, shopping, and quarantine restrictions, Lubkemann says we should still remember to not let our to-do list get in the way of irreplaceable moments.

“Maybe instead of getting caught up in the holiday rush or looking for the hottest toy, focus on building the foundation of the family and making it stronger. You can do things together, like implementing a weekly board game or movie night. Make sure everyone has a say and everybody has to be there. I think we’re always looking at the next big thing that we have to check off of our list. Then, we end up getting tired and checking out so much of the time.”

For more information on Outpatient Behavioral Health Services at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital and Winchester Medical Center, click here!

Valley Health is offering telehealth virtual visits for patients.