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Navigating the holidays and a pandemic

Navigating the holidays can often be tricky. The holiday can bring about great joy and connection for many. It can also add stress, anxiety, and feelings of isolation.

Navigating the holidays while also navigating a pandemic may increase feelings of stress, anxiety, isolation, and depression for many. The holiday season will likely look different this year. There will be fewer gatherings of friends, family, and colleagues. Many individuals and families may be experiencing increased financial distress. And many are experiencing an increased bout of uncertainty and fear related to the coronavirus pandemic. This holiday season will be different for everyone and may be challenging for many, the changes of plans and traditions in a time of increased stress may be difficult to cope with.

It is important to acknowledge the increased pressures of this holiday season and prepare for how to help yourself and others navigate the holiday season and the ongoing pandemic. The Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board shares these tips for overcoming holiday stress and guidance from the CDC for how to safely celebrate the holidays. Always know that it okay to not be okay and help is available.

Celebrate the Holidays Safely

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released guidelines on how to safely celebrate the holidays. Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses low risk for spread. In-person gatherings pose varying levels of risk, and event organizers and attendees should consider the risk of virus spread. Here is what to consider for holiday gatherings:

• Monitor community spread. If there are high numbers where the gathering will be held or where you live, consider a virtual gathering.

• Size and behavior. Limit the number of guests, consider staying at home for 14-days prior to the gathering, gather with people who have been practicing safer behaviors like mask wearing, avoiding large events and keeping distance.

• Location. Outdoor is safer than indoor.

• Duration. Keep the gatherings short.

• Food safety. Consider individual portions or having each family bring their own meals. If sharing a meal, have one person serve the meals.

• General safety. Wear a mask, keep distance between guests, make sure there is good ventilation, wash hands, and clean common and high touch areas.

• Stay home. If you are sick or if you are high risk.

Managing the Stress of the Season

The holiday season presents a stressful time, no matter the year. With the added complications of the coronavirus pandemic, it is normal to feel increased stress about gathering or not gathering with loved ones, missing out on holiday traditions, and keeping yourself safe and healthy.

For individuals in recovery from substance use disorders, the holidays can bring added pressure to indulge and celebrate in ways that might challenge their recovery. If you are not an individual in recovery, you can help support your loved ones by staying connected and encouraging healthy coping mechanisms for holiday-related stress.

Tips for Overcoming Holiday Stress

• Have reasonable expectations and be flexible. Real life doesn’t look like holiday movies, especially during a pandemic!

• Avoid toxic people whenever possible. Every invitation doesn’t have to be accepted.

• Practice your breathing. Deep breaths can help reduce stress and tension. Be sure that you are at least six feet away from others if practicing deep breathing.

• Think about priorities for holiday preparations. What matters most to you? As pressures mount, relax and focus on your priorities.

• Get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults (ages 18-64) get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

• Safely spend time with people who are supportive and care about you. Maybe try reconnecting with someone you have lost touch with.

• Limit Alcohol Consumption. Excessive drinking can increase depressive symptoms.

• Don’t be afraid to try something new! Trying new things can be fun and memorable. This year we all need to be flexible and open to celebrating the holidays in ways we haven’t done before.

Tips for Individuals in Recovery

• Put your recovery/sobriety first.

• Surround yourself with others in recovery, especially before or after stressful events.

• If you are in a 12-Step group, go to more meetings during the holidays and know that there are virtual support groups available. Though gathering in groups has become more difficult during the pandemic, support groups, like AA and NA, are available online or in alternative settings.

• Practice self-care and an attitude of gratitude.

• Make a plan and share it with your support system. Plans can include an exit for stressful events, how to turn down a drink, or how to avoid a negative or hurtful family member. Consider attending stressful events virtually this year instead so that you have more control over who and what is around you.

• Remember – it is okay to say “no” to going somewhere that may threaten your recovery/ sobriety.

• Ask for help and support when you need it.

• Remember that the days and weeks following the holiday season can be challenging, too. Have a plan in place to decompress after you celebrate.

Reach out for Help

Help is available for those in need. If you or someone you know is in crisis or if the stress of the holiday season becomes too much, please ask for help.

• Connect with the Crisis Text Line by texting 4HOPE to 741 741.

• Dial 211 for information or a referral to a service provider.

• Reach the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services CareLine at 1.800.720.9616

• If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

The hazards of stress, depression and substance use that accompany the holidays will probably always be around. However, you do not have to let them ruin your holidays. In fact, you can make this season’s celebration a beautiful, fulfilling experience for yourself and those close to you. Once you know what to guard against, and how to handle matters in a new way, you and your family will be better able to enjoy the holiday season.

(Information provided to the Columbiana County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.)

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