NEWS

Vaccines Bring Relief to the Holidays, But We'll Still Have to Manage Some Stress

Drawing of family decorating the house for the holidays

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Key Takeaways

  • While vaccines have brought some normalcy to the holidays this year, you still might be feeling pressures and stress of the season.
  • There are ways to cope and protect your mental health during the holidays.
  • Staying connected to loved ones, setting boundaries and managing financial strains can help you enjoy holiday festivities.

This holiday season may feel a little brighter than last since many people are vaccinated, however, the reality that we’re still in a pandemic continues to cause an array of complicated emotions. 

“It’s been clear throughout the pandemic that the overall impact on the population’s mental health has been significant. There have been reports of more depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts during this time, particularly for youth and young adults, caregivers, frontline workers, and BIPOC populations,” says Doreen Marshall, PhD, vice president of mission engagement at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Still, she remains positive that measures taken to protect and support mental health are making an impact amid continued and collective distress. 

“The silver linings of this pandemic period include a continued sense of community cohesion, increased help-seeking, more attention to delivery of mental health services and suicide prevention, and telehealth made treatment more accessible for many,” Marshall says. 

As you focus on your own mental health, consider paying attention to the following holiday pressures and ways experts suggest navigating them. 

Pressure to Make Up For Lost Time

Losing out on gatherings and time together last year can create the urge to do everything this year. However, the pandemic may still cause you to miss out on important events and gathering Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist, and professor at Adelphi University in New York says let go of
valuing the number of activities you participate in.

“Quality of social connections has always been more vital than the quantity of time spent. In fact, research reminds us that meaningful time with loved ones greatly affects our wellbeing,” Serani says. She suggests bonding with loved ones by giving them focused attention. “So, put away your phone and other devices!” 

Doreen Marshall, PhD

The silver linings of this pandemic period include a continued sense of community cohesion, increased help-seeking, more attention to delivery of mental health services and suicide prevention, and telehealth made treatment more accessible for many

— Doreen Marshall, PhD

Marshall adds that it’s okay to communicate with others about feeling pressure to make every event. “Chances are pretty good that you are not the only one feeling this way. Reach out to someone who may also be feeling that way. Sharing how you are feeling may empower them to do the same,” she says. 

Establish ways to stay connected and support each other this season, such as penciling in a regular call, text, or note to check in with each other. 

Pressure to See People Who Aren't Vaccinated

If you’re vaccinated, being around others who aren’t vaccinated or who you don’t know their vaccination status can cause stress.

Serani says set limits, especially if you’re hosting an event by asking people to wear masks during the entire social gathering.

“Even if they took a PCR test, you can set the boundary of ‘masks for all,’ if this is the kind of self-care you want for yourself and your family. Be ready to tell loved ones or friends that they can't be part of the festivities without wearing a mask,” she says.

If you're attending someone else’s event, Serani says ask the host what their structure is for vaccinated versus unvaccinated attendees.

“If the limit-setting makes you comfortable, then that's great. Go and enjoy. If it doesn't, you can consider visiting, yourself, with a mask, or choosing to bow out as the arrangements make you feel uncomfortable,” she says.

Deborah Serani, PsyD

Be ready to tell loved ones or friends that they can't be part of the festivities without wearing a mask

— Deborah Serani, PsyD

Marshall agrees but says take caution not to isolate yourself. Rather than being alone, invite a couple of people to join you in a low-pressure, safe, socially distant or virtual activity, such as a Facetime meet-up. 

“The point here is that it benefits our mental health to stay connected to others and that we can protect our mental health by engaging with others in ways that align with our comfort level versus feeling pressured by external expectations,” says Marshall. 

Pressure to Spend Money

Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and, most definitely, holiday celebrations can be hard to participate in if you feel like you can’t afford to give a gift.

“Finances are tight for many people and spending has been scaled down. Open and honest communication is always key here. Create a budget and work within it. If others you're gift-giving with agree with the number, then stress is avoided,” says Serani.

If it's hard to agree on the budget, set a limit. Serani suggests saying:

"This is what I can afford, so just be mindful when you shop for me."

Another idea to alleviate costs is rather than buying for everyone in your gift-giving circle, consider holding a grab bag or Secret Santa. “Bottom line, remember that more or expensive doesn't mean better or memorable,” says Serani. 

Marshall adds that if financial strain is affecting your mental health, it might be time to seek professional help. “Often, when we are having mental health concerns and in the midst of a life stressor, it can be difficult to identify help or possible ways to address what we are experiencing,” she says. 

Financial counselors and advisors can guide you in finding strategies to manage financial stress. You can also reach out to a mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-TALK. 

What This Means For You

While stress and pressures of the holiday season can come on strong, rest assured there are ways
to cope.

 

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