The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new level of uncertainty into our daily lives. Every day, we make choices about what to do, where to go, who to see, and when and how to engage in such activity to keep ourselves and others safe. During the holidays, there are more choices to make, an increasing list of “to-dos” to complete, and perhaps even a growing desire to return to a “normal” way of life and traditions. Amid all the mental and physical activity, there can be little room for self-care. As we approach the holiday season, our mental health and addiction experts share their personal wellness tips to help support individual wellbeing throughout the year.
I am the father of two children – 10 and 16, both of whom welcome the holidays with wish lists longer than this blog post. We typically host both Thanksgiving and Christmas at our home – something that brings us great joy, but also a lot of prep that coincides with sending holiday cards, buying gifts for loved ones, and seeing friends who return to the area for the holidays. In between the marathon of activities, there are a few stolen moments and rituals that I keep to through the season:
- Window-gazing. Above my kitchen sink is a large picture window, overlooking our backyard. Although the trees have lost their luster and the gardens have fallen asleep for the winter, taking in the seasonal view as I wash dishes or prepare a meal settles my mind. Even with no chore to do, it is not uncommon for my family to find me standing there, simply looking out at the world and taking a breath.
- Music-playing. The stash of holiday related music comes out in force. Three albums end up on heavy rotation – Midwinter Graces by Tori Amos, A Christmas Cornucopia by Annie Lennox, and my personal and spiritual favorite: Tinsel and Lights by Tracey Thorn. Her song “Joy” and her cover of “Hard Candy Christmas” get me every time.
- Storytelling. My wife’s family has a tradition of acting out a holiday children’s story during family gatherings. My father-in-law historically narrated the story; but after his passing two years ago, the tradition moved to the oldest grandchild – my son. Whether in person, or on zoom as we did last year, we take a few minutes to act goofy, laugh loud, and share the power of storytelling with one another.
I dedicate time – not just during the holidays, but throughout the year – to advocate for a more just and equitable society, and sustainable environment. Giving back to the community – whether via making donations, writing letters to the editor and to members of Congress, and volunteering with my son’s school – helps me to feel more connected to my community and a sense of kinship with people around the world.
I am an avid hiker, Nordic, and downhill skier, and have even been known to do yoga or just sit with a book by the lake near my house. Personally, there is no better respite from the frenetic pace of our daily lives and the stressors of the holidays, than nature. As the days grow shorter and colder, and it is all too easy to succumb to seasonal affective disorder, I commit to getting outside daily even if it’s just for a short walk on my lunch break. Fortunately, I live near some of the most beautiful mountains in the world here in Colorado. I find peace and stillness – but even more importantly, perspective – by getting out there.
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”- John Muir
It is no secret to anyone who knows me that the holidays are my least favorite time of the year. I am not alone in this holiday melancholy, as a 2006 American Psychological Association found that 38 percent of Americans report increased stress levels during the holidays, while a 2015 survey noted that 53 percent of Americans report experiencing financial stress due to holiday spending, despite the fact more than half set budgets for their holiday spending. It can be challenging to focus on health and wellness while managing stress, but that is precisely why we must. Prolonged stress can negatively impact our health and wellbeing.
With that in mind, each year I challenge myself to find at least one thing I can enjoy during the holiday season. For me, that usually means viewing the outdoor light displays we see in our communities. With the sun setting earlier this means the chance to see even more, slow down and detour down a favorite street, enjoying the bright, sparkling colors. There is something so simple and joyful in these displays.
Whether it is gazing at holiday lights or engaging in another activity, I encourage you to look for just one thing you can appreciate during the season. You may surprise yourself, when you stop to think of the things you enjoy, there may be more out there than you realized. And if there isn’t, that’s OK too. As we know, this too shall pass!