How to manage the holiday season during a pandemic?
Christmas is all about family celebrations, shared meals and expressions of love and affection. But covid-19 has turned everything upside down and forces us to rethink the tradition. Psychologist Luísa Consciência warns about the impact on mental health and suggests ways to cope with this moment.
It is one of the most anticipated holidays of the year, especially for children, and also one of the most important in the calendar because it presupposes the gathering of family and friends. But it is also one of the moments that is usually associated with some anxiety, given the many preparations required and the endless shopping lists. This year, the situation is even more complex, as the season is in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. And although restrictions may be relaxed on holidays, the fear of contagion is real, making the equation complex, as confirmed by psychologist and psychotherapist Luísa Consciência, from the Safegene Clinic, in Oeiras: “There is already an impact on the mental health of some people, resulting from the current pandemic, where fear and anxiety have become more present in daily life. Christmas, which is traditionally a time for face-to-face socialization, will highlight the restrictions and accentuate the impact on people.”
Coping with Christmas stress
According to Luísa Consciência, “it is to be expected to feel a certain level of anxiety, fear, worry and have difficulties in coping with this difficult moment”, given that “in this season, the direct and indirect consequences of the covid-19 pandemic are present in many families”.
Regarding anxiety, he recalls that it “can manifest itself in various symptoms and interferes with the capacity for emotional regulation, reflection and decision making.” Among the different signs of anxiety, the specialist highlights “accelerated heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension or rigidity, difficulties in concentration and memory, difficulties in reasoning and loss of objectivity, catastrophic thoughts, fear of losing control, irritation, impatience, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, among others. The psychologist also warns that “these symptoms are present in the way the person interacts with himself, with others and with reality”, so it is important that each person “identify their signs and try to adopt new pro-health and pro-social behaviors, favoring the adaptation to the new reality, remaining safe, in their contexts”.
Impact on people who already suffer from anxiety or depression
The impact of the whole situation that we are currently experiencing tends to be felt more by those who already have a previous depressive state and who, in the words of Luísa Consciência, “may experience greater sadness and/or anguish aggravated by the circumstances of this Christmas season”.
On the other hand, she mentions that people who already tend to avoid social contacts or have unresolved conflicts with their families “may feel an apparent relief from the atypical restriction”. However, the specialist emphasizes that what is most appropriate is “conflict resolution and building balanced interpersonal relationships with gratifying conviviality for all involved.” “When one is not doing well, it is important to seek help to develop skills to have a more balanced life, in the reality of each, with healthy emotional relationships,” she argues.
How can I prepare to face this Christmas?
Luísa Consciência recommends that anyone with a mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, “develop and maintain habits that help daily balance, regardless of the Christmas season,” such as those listed below. But the same behaviors can – and should – be followed by everyone, regardless of health status:
- Moderate eating, avoiding excesses motivated by emotional states;
- Leisure time, taking the opportunity to do the activities you love;
- Practicing a physical activity adapted to one’s condition;
- Regular sleeping hours, avoiding working, watching TV or using a cell phone in the space where you sleep;
- Have a safety net of family, friends and professionals;
- Regular clinical follow-up, whenever warranted;
- Seek help if you are unable to maintain a minimum level of balance.
How to live a time full of sharing and affection
Although much of the Christmas traditions need to be rethought this year, the truth is that, as Luísa Consciência points out, “sharing affection has no distance, it is an opportunity to re-sign relationships.” To this end, the health professional leaves some suggestions: “Be creative, using the means available to those who are further away, for example, using technological resources, recovering the habit of writing letters or Christmas cards for those who are not familiar with technology, recording videos of distant relatives, organizing family meetings by video call, encouraging children to record activities to send to grandparents who can not be present, among others. “Even those who are not able to develop some of these activities can always ask for help from a volunteer,” she adds, stressing the importance of communication and sharing.
Above all, it is crucial that, despite the circumstances, “you live the moment in the best way possible,” she says. To do this, it is also important to “understand that the hygiene practices and safety measures implemented are intended to contain the spread of the virus, and are a way for everyone to contribute to the health of all.
Tips for a good (and safe) Christmas
Luísa Consciência shares some tips on how to make the atypical Christmas of 2020 unforgettable for the best reasons:
- Be creative in interactions, without endangering yourself or others, respecting the safety measures provided;
- Talk to people with whom you can express your feelings;
- Share your experiences;
- Take time for self-care;
- Dedramatize, using humor. Humor can help reduce stress and anxiety by putting situations into perspective without becoming reckless;
- Reduce pessimistic thoughts;
- Cherish the moments of each day;
- Learn to live with the uncertainty that is part of life;
- Invest your efforts in what you can control.
Do I need professional help?
This is a question that can arise at certain times in any person’s life, given the challenges they are going through. Luísa Consciência points out that “most states of anxiety and sadness are transient, passing after a few days or after one or two weeks, but when they persist over time and interfere significantly with daily life and well-being, it is best to seek professional help.” Here are some of the signs to watch for:
- Excessive feeling of agitation;
- Lack of control;
- Anxiety over long periods of time that prevents you from functioning and completing daily tasks;
- Easy irritation in close relationships (children, spouse and parents);
- Recurrent insomnia;
- Feelings of sadness, unhappiness or despair;
- Excessive isolation;
- Lack of appetite, lack of pleasure in activities in which he previously felt pleasure.
In this phase of the pandemic, it is important to take care of yourself! AdvanceCare has a program that allows you to be accompanied by a psychologist without leaving your home. Get to know the AdvanceCare Online Programs and enhance your physical well-being.