The Holidays, COVID-19 and emotional wellbeing.
Traditionally, the holidays have been a time of family gatherings, office parties, friendly get-togethers, kids’ sports tournaments… and unfortunately, a time of stress, anxiety and feelings of sadness for many. This year, COVID-19 is curtailing much of the former, and in so doing is exacerbating the latter.
“Many of my patients tell me this is the toughest time of the year for them,” says St. Clair Hospital doctor of psychiatry Matthew A. Conlon, M,D. “I see an increase in depression, anxiety, stress, and insomnia, because it can be challenging to keep up with the demands placed on us during the holidays. On top of this, the days are shorter and darker, and the weather can make it hard to leave our homes. But we need to need remember that there are many effective things we can do to reduce stress, and be kind to ourselves and others.”
As is also well known, the incidence of depression spikes during the holidays, especially for those who live alone or have lost a loved one in the previous year. Those feelings are likely to be multiplied and magnified by a pandemic that has left many in our community “Alone together.” Despite that rallying cry, alone is alone — and this year, more people than ever will realize it.
It doesn’t have to be that way because there are steps that you can take and resources that are available to help reduce stress and improve your emotional wellbeing during the holidays. Our partners at the Mayo Clinic offer these tips:
- Know that it’s OK to express your feelings if you can’t be with loved ones or if you’ve lost someone close to you. It’s normal to feel a sense of grief, and sometimes “letting it out” is the first step forward.
- Don’t try to push through it alone. Instead, reach out to friends, family and religious or community groups, visit support groups online, or volunteer your time to help others. All can help to lift your spirits and expand your social circle, which helps to fend off depression.
- Set your expectations for the holidays. They don’t have to be perfect or exactly the way they used to be. Hold on to the traditions you can and be open to discovering new ones.
- Accept family and friends as they are and forgive any past grievances.
- Avoid undue financial stress by deciding what you can afford to spend and sticking to your budget.
- Plan ahead by scheduling shopping, baking and socializing (even if that’s via the web), decide on menus in advance and shop ahead of time to avoid last minute trips.
- Saying yes to everything only leads to feeling overwhelmed, so don’t be afraid to beg off of events or gatherings if it’s going to add pressure.
- Stick to your healthy habits, have healthy snacks before holiday meals to prevent overindulging, keep up your exercise routine, don’t overdo it on Christmas cheer and get plenty of sleep.
- Make time for yourself.
- If you feel persistently sad or anxious, have trouble sleeping or just can’t face routine chores, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services also provides mental health support through the Persevere PA referral line at 1.855.284.2494 (TTY 724.631.5600).
It’s also important to remember that kids and teens have seen a dramatic increase in depression and anxiety during COVID-19. “Stopping the spread” has meant putting a stop to many of the activities and social opportunities that school-aged kids look forward to the most. So if you have kids, you need to be aware of the warning signs of distress, including:
- Sadness, tearfulness and withdrawal
- Missing online school meetings and neglecting schoolwork
- Overuse of social media or streaming networks
- Poor sleep habits
- Emotional outbursts
- Refusing to exercise or leave the house
- Drug use, including vaping
- Fatigue, nervousness
- Weight gain or loss (and associated eating habits)
- Panic attacks
- Physical issues like headaches or stomach aches
- Self-harm, such as cutting or scratching
Help is nearby
If your feelings of sadness or anxiety persist, or if you recognize the symptoms of emotional distress in your school-age children, St. Clair Hospital is here to provide the care you need. Our psychiatric services include emergency care, inpatient care, outpatient programs, support groups, community outreach, consultation services, suicide prevention and more. All delivered with the utmost in compassion and a complete commitment to your long-term wellbeing. To learn more, call 412.942.4800.
MATTHEW A. CONLON, M.D.
Dr. Conlon specializes in psychiatry. He earned his medical degree at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, N.Y., and completed his graduate training at UPMC. Dr. Conlon is board-certified in Psychiatry & Neurology. He practices at St. Clair Hospital.
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/helping-kids-cope/202011/warning-signs-depression-and-anxiety-during-the-holidays