Note: This article is a paid placement and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Billy Penn at WHYY.
The winter holidays are typically a time to embrace the warmth of family and friends during the darkening days and long nights. We look forward to home cooked meals, exchanging gifts and reuniting with people from afar.
Of course, this year promises to be different, as the pandemic keeps us at home, socializing with only those in our immediate family. Plus, budgets are tight for many. Fewer people are able to create the celebrations they’ve hosted in the past.
That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the season! One key to making it meaningful: think about why you love it — and what workarounds you can use.
Ask yourself, what’s important to you this holiday? If you typically travel, is it to express closeness with family? To share traditions? To relax and have a good time? Some could recapture a bit of the joy of traveling to grandma’s by setting up a Zoom connection, but that might not work for others. Think about alternative ways to connect that are meaningful to you.
This past Easter, for example, we had friends who were feeling sad about being unable to visit our daughter. They snuck over at 5 a.m. and hid eggs all over the lawn, to her delight. Later in the spring, my family dropped off half a birthday cake to some friends so we could celebrate together online. There are many creative ways of making your presence felt through hand-written cards or small, thoughtful gifts.
The important thing is to talk to family and friends in an open way and ask what would actually help them to feel happy and connected, and then listen to what they say.
While the season presents challenges for all of us, it is a particularly difficult time for people suffering from anxiety or depression, and this year is even more fraught. More than being sad or worried, a diagnosis of anxiety or depression diagnosis means that these symptoms have begun interfering with the ability to function in work and relationships. When anxious or depressed, people can feel disconnected from close relationships and unable to enjoy normal activities. Some might feel like they’re supposed to be happy this time of year and, because they are not, that they’re a burden to be around.
It’s important we take stock of how people close to us are feeling, and not write off problems we see because “everybody feels bad right now.” More than ever, we need to pay attention, in order to make sure we’re not missing mental or behavioral health problems that can be helped with support and treatment.
It’s important to check in on ourselves, as well. It can feel hard to find time or energy to take stock of our mental health when we are distracted by so many stressors.
Worries about finances, the pandemic, social unrest or the political situation often crowd out important attention to self-care. But if we miss that we’re not just sad or worried, but actually suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder, we can miss a big opportunity to get necessary help. With treatment, which is easier than ever now due to telehealth, these conditions no longer have to be a barrier to being healthy and productive.
So as we head into the holiday season, let’s take a moment to check in with ourselves and our loved ones, talk about how we’re doing and what really matters to us this holiday season, and then help each other make it happen.