2020 has been an unprecedented time. The pandemic has taken a lot from all of us. Many of us have lost loved ones, jobs, and businesses. We may have seen our own physical and mental health become compromised. We naturally want to be surrounded by the people we love during these stressful and uncertain times, especially during the holiday season. However, this year we each have to do our part to ensure the safety of our families and friends. I am going to share some COVID-19 holiday season safety tips and coping skills to handle your holiday stress.
COVID-19 Holiday Safety Tips:
- Don’t plan for large family gatherings because home space may hinder social distancing.
- Encourage everyone to wear masks during family gatherings. We all may let our guard down because we are around family, but you cannot account for if other people exposed them to the virus.
- If family and friends do visit your home, have hand sanitizer available.
- Encourage frequent hand washing.
- Make sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched surface areas.
- For meals, you can give your guests disposable utensils and dishware.
- If you plan on traveling to see family in another state, consider driving. Traveling in a car can lower your exposure to COVID-19. Planes, trains, and buses may have fewer opportunities for social distancing.
- To avoid crowded flights and bus and train rides, try traveling at less busy times and dates.
- If on planes, trains, or buses, carry a spare mask and your own personal travel-size sanitizer.
- Check to see if COVID-19 cases are rising in the area you will be visiting.
- Communicate with friends or family if you have had COVID-19 exposure in the last 14 days or having symptoms.
- If you live in a warm area, consider hosting your friends and family outdoors instead of indoors to avoid ventilation issues and potentially restricted social distancing space.
- If you are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19, then consider not traveling for the gathering. If you do, make sure that you avoid large gatherings.
- You may want to recommend to guests that they quarantine 14 days before coming to your household to limit the chances of exposure.
- Your family may decide to have a virtual gathering. Every household can prepare the same meals to replicate the in-person gathering.
- If you’re not having an in-person gathering, you can order gifts online for family and friends.
Handling Holiday Stress
- Talk with a friend or family member about your feelings about the gatherings. Speaking with others about your fears can help reduce the “fear of the unknown.” Realizing “we’re all in the same boat” can help lower the general anxiety that comes from the unpredictable nature of holiday gatherings, especially during this pandemic.
- You can practice role-playing family interactions with a trusted friend or relative. This does not replace the real event, but practice can help ease anxiety, and creating scenarios will help you visualize the day of the holiday reunion.
- Activities such as listening to music, dancing, exercising, praying, meditation, painting, drawing, or watching your favorite TV show or movie are some ways to reduce holiday stress.
- Staying up to date with reliable local COVID-19 news can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- If you have a medical or psychiatric condition, continue taking your medications to prevent flare-ups.
- Follow up with your mental health provider if the holiday and COVID-19 stress is impairing your personal and occupational functioning.
These are some practical safety tips and ways to deal with holiday stress from family gatherings. We are all unique, but making your mental health a priority during the pandemic and holiday season is important. You can always receive up-to-date information about COVID-19 and the best safety practices from your county’s health department.
I hope you and your family have a safe holiday season
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Dr. Ifeanyi Olele
Ifeanyi Olele, DO, MBA, MS, is a board-certified psychiatrist who sees adolescent and adult patients in the greater Washington DC metropolitan area at Genesis Psychiatric Solutions. Dr. Olele is a dedicated psychiatrist in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma-related stress disorders, and attention deficit disorders. Dr. Ifeanyi Olele is one of the few psychiatrists who utilizes psychotherapy (talk therapy) as part of his treatment plan.