How to survive the holidays during a pandemic

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The holidays are a hard time of year for lots of people. We have some tips and resources to help you through this rough year.

It’s tough to know exactly how the holidays will impact the spread and effects of COVID-19, but we can certainly agree the season is unfolding differently this 2020. There’s a lot to know about what is going on this year and not entirely in ways you expect. This article will take you through all the ways COVID might make the holidays tougher, what to know, and what to do.

In America, loneliness and isolation affect the health of millions across the country. The Census Bureau started the Household Pulse Survey, to capture the impact of COVID-19 on mental and economic health. Even before the pandemic, loneliness links to poorer health conditions for at-risk individuals. Last year alone, 47 million people reported having a mental illness. The added physical, mental, financial, and social burdens of COVID-19 make the stress, worry and isolation of this holiday season particularly tough.


If you are grieving a loss…

There will be many families grieving their first holiday without a loved one this year. It’s essential to recognize emotions will run high. Parents and children tend to want to close themselves off or “be brave,” but with normalcy being so hard to come by, this might not help families cope. It is okay to process slowly or intensely as families struggle with unprecedented circumstances and uncertainty. 

Things to consider: Think about having a virtual meeting with all family members involved to see where everyone stands in participating in the holidays this year. Helping to set a level of expectation can give you some footing. Then discuss ways to honor your loved one. How did they usually contribute to the holiday spirit? Can you honor that in some way? It’s important to stay connected. Social isolation during the pandemic makes this more challenging to attain but much more important. 

The loss of routine: Even without losing a loved one to the pandemic, doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t grieving. Mayo Clinic discusses how the loss of routine can also be upsetting and debilitating. It is important to give yourself space to cope with this type of coronavirus grief. While we have been dealing with this for roughly six months now, the holiday season poses a new wave of emotions. Firsts, no matter what, are difficult. 

What to do: Dr. M. Katherine Shear, founding director of the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University, suggests using the tenants of the serenity prayer. Since traditional forms of processing and moving through the death of a loved one, like funeral services or shivas, aren’t taking place right now, the prayer helps you accept the things you cannot change. It is important to your wellbeing to ground yourself amid all of this uncertainty. Go back to things that align with your values or make you feel deeply connected to others or the world. 


If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide…

According to JAMA psychology research, suicide rates in the United States have increased over 35% since 1999 and adds to another global health crisis. Unfortunately, data around suicide, due to stigma and lack of national reporting systems, don’t reflect real-time data. There is no way to know the immediate effect of COVID-19 on suicide numbers in the US or anywhere else. However, psychologists are worried about “several risk factors linked to the pandemic.” 

COVID-19 Risk Factors: The decline in mental or physical health, social isolation and loneliness already indicate potential for difficulty. Struggling with suicidal ideation can be made worse with financial losses, the disruption of daily life like remote work or school, loss of loved ones or milestones and increased alcohol consumption. In the US, an increase to the availability of drugs or firearms from sheltering in place is also cause for concern. 

What to do: Suicidal thoughts make you or your loved one’s health an emergency. Some signs include extreme mood swings from being very sad to very calm, talking about hopelessness or feeling trapped, feeling there aren’t any solutions, and talking about dying. If you or a loved one seem off or more isolated than normal, it is essential to reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). If you are a friend or family member, follow the National Institute of Mental Health’s five steps: ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide, keep them safe by reducing their access to harmful means; be there to listen; help them connect to a therapist or a hotline; lastly, stay connected. Research suggests talking about suicide can actually help to reduce it.


If you or someone you know might experience domestic violence…

The stay-at-home orders made to protect the public concerns domestic abuse advocates that victims will be trapped with their abusers. The limited mobility and heightened uncertainty can lead to more triggers and increase abuse. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, domestic violence hotlines expected to see an increase in activity during quarantine, but actually, the calls decreased by nearly fifty percent. This concerns experts even more to know the rates of violence aren’t decreasing, but actually, victims are unable to find a safe way to get help. 

Risk factors amid COVID-19: Hotels and shelters long provided alternative and emergent housing, but with closures, safe havens are harder to find. Domestic violence disproportionately affects minority women of color; 1 in 4 women experience intimate partner violence (IPV). Before COVID, unstable childcare, financial hardships, unsafe housing, or lack of social support can increase risk, but now, these are a given. The pandemic seriously limits a victim’s financial independence to get out of the situation safely. Many families hold “essential jobs” and don’t have childcare capabilities to get their kids connected for school. This added stress can lead to instances of child abuse too.

What to do: Most people don’t seek help when suffering from IPV. If you think you’ve experienced abusive behavior, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can help you identify abuse and a safe plan of action. This holiday, make it a mission to check in on the ones you love. Often victims of violence will isolate themselves from fear or shame. If you suspect abuse happening to your neighbor or friend, keep a journal of anything you’ve seen or heard to provide evidence if they ever choose to prosecute. Calling the police isn’t always a good idea. Read more about why here. Instead, you should make a call to a local or state violence center for further steps. 


If you’re struggling to stay sober…

Retail alcohol sales increased roughly 40% at brick and mortar establishments after bars and restaurants closed for stay-at-home orders. According to Winsight Grocery Business, online sales for alcohol skyrocketed at 339%. Alcohol misuse is already a public health concern across the US. COVID-19 may worsen these behaviors long after the pandemic. The director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said we could look at other catastrophic stressors like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. During times of stress, the added anxiety and uncertainty of the future can lead people to consume more alcohol. 

Risk factors amid COVID-19: Consuming alcohol in larger quantities will affect your immune system and the body’s ability to fight viral infections, especially in the lungs. Drinking alcohol to cope with stress, sleep disturbances, and even boredom increases the chance for alcohol use disorder. Recovering alcoholics live with their condition daily. Over 2 million members participate in Alcoholics Anonymous and well over 100,000 groups worldwide. Recovery takes a wide network of social support. With social distancing, a lot of this has gone away, but there are still things to do and ways to help. 

What to do: There are online AA meetings available like the Token Shop. Finding ways to connect with friends and family, even your sponsor, will help keep you grounded. These interactions are vital to stay safe these holidays. Whether you are struggling with diagnosed alcohol use disorder or not, be aware of new triggers. Be mindful of your mental health.


If money is really tight this year…

Many Americans were struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic, but a record number of 40 million Americans filed for unemployment during April. The long-term impact of COVID will show families facing worse financial burdens, the ability to get a job or make ends meet, foreclosures, and evictions in the months to come. There is no worse time to deal with money stress than during the holidays. 

Risk factors among COVID: Minorities are disproportionately more affected with financial burden caused by the pandemic. Families struggling to make ends meet and are also trying to put their kids through online schooling. They are struggling to make it work. There are roughly 42 million Americans without access to the internet at home. Because of social distancing and closures, many people have difficulty finding work, going to school, teaching their kids, and staying connected without the internet. 

What to do: Ask for help. There are organizations and nonprofits set up to help families provide gifts to their children during the holidays. Keep your holiday small. Keep your kids’ priorities focused on family and find other ways to show them support. In turn, this might relieve some of your own stress because you would have found ways to cope and participate in self care. While the white house is still working on another stimulus bill, there are other programs that cab help. Food Stamps can help alleviate some stress when grocery shopping. There are also programs helping to reduce internet costs. 

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