Things have been different this year with the COVID-19 pandemic and more. And while we might crave more connection, including simple hugs, public health officials have been advising us to maintain social distance and limit in-person events since the pandemic began. Travel also has been more difficult, and many of us haven’t seen friends and family like we typically would. Sadly, we can have no plans to do so.
But these connections are important. In fact, scientific evidence suggests social connection, “the feeling that you belong to a group and generally feel close to other people,” is a core social need, according to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkley. And these connections can be vital to our happiness and good for our health, the center reports. So if you’ve been feeling lonely or run down this year, you’re not alone.
“After months and months of social isolation, the prospect that we can’t carry out the holiday family traditions we are used to has people feeling frustrated and tired,” adds Nikole Benders-Hadi, M.D., a psychiatrist in White Plains, New York, and medical director of Behavioral Health at Doctor On Demand. “Many may also be struggling with symptoms of depression and anxiety as the pandemic drags on. Economic and political strife are other factors that make it easy to feel overwhelmed. Sadness, irritability and even hopelessness are unfortunately becoming more common.”
Plus, the holidays can be hard even during otherwise “normal” years. “The holiday season can also bring back memories of family members you’ve lost or relationships that aren’t where you’d like them to be,” explains Benders-Hadi. “There can be a tremendous amount of pressure to get into the holiday celebratory spirit, but acknowledging these other emotions can be very important as well.”
But while we may have difficult moments, there is still hope. In fact, there are specific things to do over the holidays, even this year, to boost connection, particularly if you’ve chosen to social distance and limit in-person events. Here are four things to try.
Get real with yourself and let yourself feel. Give yourself time to understand and process what you’ve been feeling, whether you’re more sad, overwhelmed or tired, or something else.
“It is absolutely OK to feel lonely. It is absolutely OK to feel disappointed and angry as well,” adds Benders-Hadi. That means we don’t need to act like we’re fine when we’re not.
To this point, earlier this year, I wrote a post for our Sisters Facebook page that read simply: “You are loved. You are strong. You are allowed to feel your feelings.” Thousands of people have since engaged with this post, including sharing comments. Because feeling your feelings doesn’t mean you’re not strong. You’re human. Allow yourself time to process what you’re dealing with.
Ask for help if you need it. That said, if you’re not coping with current events the way you’d like to, or are feeling really down or stuck, it’s OK to ask for help. On the milder end, that may mean calling a friend or loved one. On the more serious side, you can talk with an expert.
“If you are seeing changes in yourself or a loved one that are concerning for something more serious going on, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a mental health professional,” confirms Benders-Hadi. Either way, reaching out can be a good idea.
Establish new traditions. You may have decided you’re not leaving the house this year for the holidays, which means you may not be cooking like you usually do, or seeing loved ones like you did during the good old days of 2019. But, with technology and more, you can still connect.
“We must shift our thinking and conjure our creativity,” advises Carolyn Davis-Cottle, a psychotherapist and founder of Inner Image Counseling & Consulting in West Orange, New Jersey. “Try creating a holiday virtual meetup schedule with your loved ones where you all log [on] to cook together. You can also gather virtually to host a karaoke or bingo night with your loved ones,” she suggests.
Or try some of the activities I shared earlier this year for Mother’s Day, including reading books with loved ones (call to chat about the plot), watching movies separately but together (check out these films about transformation) or planning an outing to a virtual museum. Google Arts and Culture (artsandculture.google.com) has a listing of more than 2,500 galleries and museums around the world to try.
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Embrace gratitude and self-care. Feeling grateful isn’t a quick fix for feelings of depression. But gratitude can have an association with our overall well-being, an existing body of research finds. Speaking for myself, I can tell you praying and remembering my blessings helps me, even when things around me are not perfect. And I’ve recommended taking time for gratitude to others, too.
Davis-Cottle also recommends it. “I always give my clients the assignment to think of three things they are grateful for each day. When we really think about it, it helps us to center and become more optimistic,” she explains, noting that cultivating gratitude when we feel anxious or lonely can “stop negative thoughts from flourishing because the brain must reroute its focus.”
No matter what, as you create ways to connect with others, do continue to care for yourself however you can, whether it’s through prayer, exercise, listening to music or some other practice that brings you peace.