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Protecting your mental & physical health during the holidays

Posted at 10:35 AM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 12:42:40-05

IDAHO — The holiday season is in full swing, and while it's a joyful time for many, there are those who experience feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression.

Thanks to the pandemic, the majority of people spent last year in their own homes instead of with family or friends. Now, as Americans get their COVID-19 vaccine, they're making holiday plans once again.

Trying to gather everyone again can be stressful on its own, but even more so if you're also only able to spend one day together and forced to cram nearly two years' worth of conversations into a span of hours. If you're feeling nervous or apprehensive about what those conversations may be like, mental health experts suggest setting boundaries.

"I think it's ok to say, to set structure during the time if a conversation is going a way that you don't want it to go, it's ok to say, you know, 'excuse me, I'm going to go take a walk.' The theme for me through the holidays is, 'make yourself the priority,'" says Andree Miceli, Director of Behavioral Health for Regence.

Even if your family or friends are upset by you walking away during a difficult conversation or moment, Miceli says remember you're doing it for yourself and not doing it to them.

Joel Nielson, a counselor with Terry Reilly Health Services, also suggests setting boundaries even before you arrive at your Thanksgiving or Christmas destination.

"The holidays are, again, a time of high feelings, right? People manage their expectations indirectly so maybe send a text ahead of time," Nielson explains.

That text can be as simple as saying you're excited to get together but letting them know you expect to have a fun and light time, and you're not going to talk about certain topics. Just keep in mind those charged topics will likely come up and it's ok to take a break.

Even if you're spending the holidays solo again, you could still face some challenges like potential feelings of loneliness or isolation. Nielson says think about what you expect for the holidays for yourself ahead of time.

"I think being able to have a clear vision of what we want out of the holidays helps and then reaching out," Nielson explains. "Acceptance is a lot of it and then doing what we can."

Nielson and Miceli both agree that the holidays should be about creating a purpose and meaning for yourself. That could include signing up to volunteer with a local organization. You can find ideas here.

Other ideas include setting up a Zoom or other video call with family and friends so you can stay connected while staying apart. It's something that may be necessary as the pandemic continues.

If you're planning to be around family or friends during the holiday season, experts say the best way to protect yourself is by getting vaccinated. As of November 24, just over 56% of Idahoans 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

For those keeping their gatherings indoors, Dr. Andrew Baron, Chief Medical Officer for Terry Reilly Health Services, says you should consider keeping the windows open, social distancing, wearing a mask, or simply moving the party outside.

Wearing a mask is also suggested for elderly and immunocompromised guests as well as children, even if they've received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine for kids in the five to 11-year-old age group.

"The big thing again is to have kids wearing masks which actually most children don't have an issue with it. It's generally if their parents have an issue with it that they will. Otherwise, children don't really seem to be bothered by wearing masks at all. It almost seems like a game that they get to play so if they can wear a mask, that's going to provide some protection," says Dr. Baron.

Holiday travel is expected to pick up again this holiday season, but no matter if you're flying or driving, Dr. Baron recommends keeping up with basic hygiene routines and making sure to take hand sanitizer and a face mask with you. His top tip is still to get both your COVID and flu shot.

For more holiday safety tips, click here. If you're looking for support for your mental health during the holidays, try these Mayo Clinic ideas.