New Ways to Stay Connected this Holiday Season

A photo illustration of a family on a couch, smiling while talking with someone via video chat

Stress during the holiday season is not uncommon. But, for the 2020 holiday season, we are also several months into a global pandemic. Despite all the unpredictability we’ve experienced this year, we can be sure of one thing: The 2020 holiday season will be unlike any other.

We Are Facing New Challenges

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 also grieving from losses related to COVID-19. Personally, nationally, and even globally, we have been greatly impacted by the illnesses, deaths, and economic hardships, as well as months of social distancing and isolation. With COVID-19 numbers back on the rise, it seems clear that restrictions will likely need to continue through the 2020 holiday season.

Plan Ahead to Stay Connected

To keep our minds healthy and promote healing, we need a sense of safety and shared experiences. We’re up against a lot this year, so 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 to limit travel and gatherings this holiday season, it’s a good idea to start making plans with your loved ones about how to celebrate — and find ways to connect even if you’re not physically together.

Get Creative with a Virtual Holiday Celebration

Look for clever ways to re-create your family’s holiday traditions virtually. Get creative with COVID-19-friendly holiday gatherings using video chat platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime on Apple devices. You might even “elect” one of your more technologically savvy family members to help everyone get set up for virtual holiday activities.

Here are some ideas:

  • Have a virtual holiday dinner together. Plan a day and time for your dinner, and maybe even share some famous family recipes for everyone to try to make at their own house. If you celebrate Hanukkah, you can virtually light candles on the menorah together.
  • Gift-giving is often a focus of the holidays, regardless of what holiday you celebrate. Send gifts ahead of time and open them together virtually. Or, use an online service that allows you to organize a “Secret Santa” gift exchange with a group. This is especially fun for the kids!
  • Watch a holiday movie together by picking the film and time you’ll watch. Netflix and Amazon Prime offer virtual watch party features, which allow you to use a chat box with friends during the movie.
  • Play games, sing, or share stories. These activities are a great way to bridge the gap between older and younger generations in your family.
  • Have a friendly virtual competition, whether it’s decorating gingerbread houses, trimming the tree, or holding a holiday talent show.

Be sure to reach out often to your elderly family members and friends who are alone. For those who live by themselves or in a nursing home, this year may have them feeling even more isolated. Even if you’re unable to visit, 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 2020 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. Independence Blue Cross members can schedule a virtual visit with an in-network behavioral health care professional and pay the same cost-sharing as an in-office visit.

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

  • 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 the 2020 holiday season. 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


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 maintain 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 my life’s work and be a psychiatric liaison to health services, providers, hospital systems, as well as provide clinical guidance to programs at IBX and collaborate with Magellan.