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Safer Ways to Celebrate the Holidays and Stay Connected

Video call with family on Christmas day during pandemic

Stress during the holidays is not uncommon, but the COVID-19 pandemic has taken it to a whole new level. As we enter our second pandemic winter, it’s important to find safer ways to celebrate the holidays, stay connected, and keep an eye on mental health.

Challenges We Face During the Holidays

Even under the best circumstances, winter can be a hard time for some. Millions of Americans struggle with seasonal affective disorder, often triggered by reduced daylight after we set our clocks back. The holidays can also be challenging for those who are coping with grief after losing a loved one.

On top of these expected seasonal concerns, we are still grieving from losses related to COVID-19. Personally, nationally, and even globally, we have been greatly impacted by the illnesses, deaths, and economic hardships the pandemic has caused. Add on top of that, we’ve endured almost two years of social distancing and travel restrictions.

While we’ve made a lot of progress with vaccinations in the U.S. since the holidays last year, things still aren’t “normal” this holiday season.

Safer Ways to Celebrate the Holidays and Stay Connected

To keep our minds healthy and promote healing, we need a sense of safety and shared experiences. It’s important to take steps to stay healthy, remain connected with our loved ones, and find ways to cope with stress.

No matter what holidays you celebrate, gathering with family and friends is likely a part of your tradition. With advice from health officials on safer ways to celebrate the holidays, you may not be returning back to your usual family traditions just yet.

It’s a good idea to start making plans with your loved ones about how to celebrate. If you’re gathering in person, the safest way to do so is to make sure everyone is vaccinated, including children ages 5 to 11. And those who have been fully vaccinated should receive a booster when they are eligible.

If you can’t physically be together, look for clever ways to re-create your family’s holiday traditions virtually to stay connected. You can get creative with remote holiday gatherings using video chat platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime on Apple devices.

Be sure to reach out often to your elderly family members and friends. For those who live by themselves or in a nursing home, the pandemic may have them feeling even more isolated. Even a phone call, piece of mail, or virtual chat might make a big difference to them!

Know Your Mind, Ask for Help If You Need It

Above all else, keep an eye on your health and mood this holiday season. By staying aware of how you’re feeling and changes in your mood, you can better detect when you might need to practice self-care or talk to someone.

If you need more help, you can always talk to your health care provider or a behavioral health care professional. Most Independence Blue Cross members have virtual care options for behavioral health visits, including virtual visits with an MDLIVE® provider or with an in-network behavioral health care professional who offers this option.

Here are some easy ways to take good care of your mind and body this holiday season:

  • Connect with loved ones often, even if it’s virtually
  • Eat nutritious food
  • Avoid overindulging in alcohol or drugs, and remember that your tolerance may be different after social distancing this year
  • Get enough sleep
  • Be more physically active
  • Get outside during the day for 30 – 60 minutes

If you struggle with seasonal affective disorder, light exposure is key in treating it. So, going out for a walk or sitting in the sun can help improve your mood. You can also try using special lamps that are used for light therapy, but a good 30-minute walk in the middle of the day with the sun shining may be enough. Also pay attention to your environment indoors. When possible, sit near a window to soak up some sunlight and avoid working in a dark corner of the house.

This too shall pass, and one day in the future we’ll tell stories of celebrating the holiday season during a pandemic. For right now, it’s important for us to maintain our health and stay connected with the people we love.

Your mental health plays an important role in your overall well-being. Find out more about how your mind works, and how to help yourself and your loved ones through emotionally challenging times at ibx.com/knowyourmind.

Dario V. LaRocca, M.D.

About Dario V. LaRocca, M.D.

I have been a medical director at Independence Blue Cross for over 15 years and have maintained a private practice in Psychiatry for over 30 years. My interest in mental health and its integration with physical health has been my life’s work. My role at IBX allows me to continue this work and be a psychiatric liaison to health services, providers, and hospital systems, as well as provide clinical guidance to programs at IBX and collaborate with Magellan.