It’s hard to believe that we are approaching the two-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with it, a very different way of living and functioning. The pandemic hit right after the 2019 holiday season, so it wasn’t until 2020 that we got to experience just how different the holidays could feel while social-distancing. This year, with the pandemic more under control and restrictions loosened, there’s something to look forward to…for some families.
While the holidays can certainly be a time of joy, togetherness, giving, and love, they aren’t the most wonderful time of the year for many families. For some, the holiday season is one of stress, frustration, grief, and loneliness, triggering or exacerbating mental health symptoms related to anxiety, depression, or trauma. The following are a couple of things to consider to optimize one’s mental health this year.
The holidays can be a reminder of loneliness, loss, and grief:
The holidays are often the one time of year when families come together, creating memories of joy and love. For those in foster care or without family, whose family is far away, is quarantined, incarcerated, is broken due to divorce, or is grieving due to the death of a loved one, the holidays spotlight what’s missing.
- Connectedness is key here. Reach out to whatever family you do have, biological, friends, school, professional, church, support groups, etc. Meeting up in person is great, but phone calls, video chats, and letters are all good too.
- If you’re truly alone, volunteer somewhere like a homeless shelter or food kitchen. Helping others and seeing true gratitude and joy in others is infectious
- If you or your child has lost a loved one, it’s important to allow for grief. Sadness and pain are part of the process and to be expected and embraced as healthy. Honor the memories of loved ones with stories and memories. Allow for appropriate expressions of grief, modeling these feelings as ok.
The holidays can bring great stress for parents and children:
Many of us look forward to time off during the holidays, a much-needed vacation to re-charge our batteries and relax. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone.
- If you work retail, the holidays are the busiest time of the year. But, this isn’t unique to retail workers. The holidays come with many added expectations of shopping, party planning, cleaning, decorating, and cooking. Pace yourself, take breaks, set limits, live in moderation, get good sleep, eat (reasonably) healthy, and exercise. Predictability is a powerful antidote to stress. Try to plan and organize as best you can.
- The consumer-focused world we live in puts tremendous pressure on us all, but on parents most, to overindulge on material gifts during the holidays. Largely due to the pandemic, the economy has been cruel to many families the past year, leaving them feeling anxious and inadequate to provide gifts. It’s important to set reasonable expectations for ourselves and our children. There are many charities and non-profits adopting families for gift-giving this holiday season. If these are not available to you, be assured, your presence means more to your children than your presents. There are many family activities capable of creating memories they’ll cherish forever that don’t cost money at all. Children spell “love” T-I-M-E.
- Lastly, consider that the holiday break from school comes at a time when the first semester is winding to a close. This means that a harsh reality has set in for some students. It’s too late to improve their grade(s), and they’re failing. Academic hopelessness is often a catalyst for child/teen mood and behavior problems. All parents are familiar with the “I don’t care” attitude. The child cares, but it hurts too much to show it to others and even themselves. Failure is painful. Parents must be a beacon of hope and reassurance. Normalize how COVID has negatively impacted many students. Your child is not the only one struggling. It is never too late to make up credits. It’s going to be ok, and you’ll be right there with them no matter what.
For some, this time of year is joyous and magical, while for others, it’s full of stress, and pain. Regardless, we must find gratitude. Whether we have a little or a whole-lot, we have something. We have hope. We have resiliency. And we have each other.
Nathan Swaringen, LCSW, has worked as a Clinical Therapist at The Guidance Center for more than 10 years. In this role, Swaringen helped guide children and families toward positive and productive futures through mental health treatment. In 2016, Swaringen developed and launched our trauma-informed pilot program based on ChildTrauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education, called It’s About T.I.M.E. He is passionate about working with school staff to create nurturing environments where all students can thrive. Swaringen earned a Master of Social Work from University of Southern California, and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton.