With reports of a new variant of concern in the U.S., stress levels for many folks may be shooting upwards. COVID-19 cases may or may not surge this winter, but these are some ways to physically and mentally prepare for the season.
Holiday activities in public
People have been shopping in person this year, although some reports from Black Friday suggest at lower numbers compared to 2019. This can continue through the rest of the holiday season, although you may want to wear a face mask and observe distancing from others while indoors.
This year, it may even be feasible for some parents and children to return to the tradition of visiting Santa.
“Some children will be considered fully vaccinated prior to this fun tradition (meaning two weeks have elapsed since their second dose), but some will not get their second dose in time, or are not even eligible for the vaccine due to their age,” Chicago suburbs-based pediatrician Priscilla Sarmiento-Gupana wrote in a Facebook chat to The Washington Post. “The safest way to visit Santa is in an outdoor setting. If your Santa visit is indoors and your child is not fully vaccinated, the safest way to interact with Santa is while wearing a mask. Don’t forget to maintain space between other families while standing in line to meet him.”
Holidays at home
If you or family and friends are traveling for the holiday season, exercise caution while in airports and other public transportation spaces. Wear a face mask and keep distance while indoors. It may also be wise to get tested before and, if possible, after traveling. Although rapid at-home antigen tests may be hard to find, keep them handy if you do get them and use them only at the first sign of symptoms.
If you have relatives that may be tricky to deal with, lay out expectations early and clearly. Keep a list of who is attending, where they are coming from, and their vaccination or testing status.
“If you and those you are gathering with are fully vaccinated, enjoy time together reconnecting over a traditional meal. If there are people you plan to gather with who are a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated, try to keep the gathering small, and perhaps move it outdoors,” said Keri Althoff, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to the Post, suggesting that s’mores could replace turkey. “Build in some flexibility to your gathering plans to increase your strategies to reduce risk if transmissions are increasing in your community. Decline invitations for gatherings that do not match your risk tolerance. Have a plan for how you will leave the gathering if you are uncomfortable with the covid-19 risk.”
Dealing with grief in yourself and others
This time of year often involves a lot of contemplation and consideration about what’s happened in our lives since the last big holiday period. For some of us, this includes grief.
“Grief is an experience that demands to be felt, and offering it some room doesn’t negate that you can also experience joyfulness or peace in small moments,” said Ayanna Abrams, a clinical psychologist and founder of Ascension Behavioral Health in Atlanta, to The Lily.
Be considerate of what others may be going through this time. Not only are people losing loved ones to COVID-19, they may also be losing them to additional causes of death like the opioid overdose crisis, cancer and other tragedies.
It may be impossible to avoid grief completely. And it’s OK to feel the loss of what “normal” feels like.
“Think less about taking away what doesn’t feel good and more about what you can add that feels warm, safe, inviting, intimate,” said Abrams.
Dealing with burnout
Burnout can be the result of a multitude of factors in your life, either professional or personal.
“If you’re someone who struggles with setting work-life boundaries, or you’re a people pleaser, this is the most guilt-ridden, nightmare time of year,” ssaidays Emily Ballesteros, a burnout management coach in Chicago, to CNBC Make It. “There’s a lot more responsibilities to tend to, and a lot of guilt around attending or not attending holiday events.”
Parents may still be feeling their own pandemic flavor of burnout these days, with chaos around school schedules, quarantining and events.
“One of the things we do in the trauma world is process and re-process. We debrief right after the event, and then we wait a while and re-process. Most parents don’t know how to do that,” said Robyn Koslowitz, who is a clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Psychological Growth in New Jersey, to the LA Times. “We went from the pandemic, back to normal life in an instant. There wasn’t a pausing period to acknowledge, ‘That was tough, let me take a breath. Let me not try to immediately catch up on all the dentist appointments and clothes shopping for the kids I missed this year.’
When you feel it coming on, it can be a crucial time to take steps to prevent it from getting worse. Go outside for a walk, even if the weather is not ideal. Take time to meditate or work on a passion project. Or you can set aside a moment to do nothing and consume nothing and sit with yourself.
For parents, planning ahead and finding ways to set some tasks to auto-pilot can relieve some of the burden.
“Any mental load you can take off your plate gives you more mental energy to attune to your kid,” says Koslowitz. “Mental load is the grit that burns an engine out.”
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