The winter holidays are meant to be a time to gather with family and friends. It’s a time to spend with loved ones and share the joy of being close as we reflect on the last few months of the year and look forward to the new one ahead. These holidays have always been a stressful time for many – what with all the pressures to have a delicious spread of home-cooked food, gifts for everyone and their cousins’ cousins, and dealing with the anxiety one feels when shopping in-person on Black Friday – not to mention the horrendous traffic. But now we have to face these holidays while dealing with an ongoing pandemic.
While some people may look forward to shopping online and foregoing the usual holiday gatherings, many of our most vulnerable have been isolated due to COVID-19 since the spring. Not being able to have their family members and friends visit them may be doubly felt during the upcoming months. Over time isolation – even when done out of necessity – can have an effect on our mental and physical health.
For seniors and individuals with chronic illnesses, self-isolation and social distancing are highly recommended. But this can be at odds with the desire to spend time with loved ones during the holidays. Even those of us who may be seemingly less vulnerable to the severe symptoms of COVID-19 still need to take into consideration that we may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic when making plans to gather with others.
So how do we manage to create joy and be merry during these upcoming holidays? What can we do to provide joy to family members and loved ones who may need close contact at this time?
Here are some tips from Robert Vadovic, RN, DNP, APN-C, Medical Director who oversees our Mental Health Initiative for our myGeneration Clinics:
- Be social, but remain distanced. There is nothing more satisfying than that hug from your loved one, but we must resist for the safety of all of us.
- Protect your health. In this time of family and giving, we must remember to start with ourselves and give yourself the comfort of knowing that by protecting yourself, you can be around next year and for many years beyond.
- Spend time with family, virtually. Call or video chat with them; cast them to the TV so you can see them as big as life. Keep the connection open through your meals, so it seems you are eating together. Open presents together.
- Safely meet in person. If you must be together, remember to keep six feet away from each other. Be sure to wear masks at all times. Wash your hands frequently and have hand sanitizer available for everyone. You must remember that it may not be your family or friends that are not taking appropriate actions, but it is those who they come in contact with that you can’t prepare for.
- Watch for mental health issues. Remember to be on the lookout for signs that people are struggling with symptoms of mental health issues. These include feeling down or depressed, lacking energy; not finding pleasure in things they once enjoyed doing; and changes in appetite. One common but overlooked symptom is insomnia, sleep disturbances, or an inability to remain asleep. Increased isolation is another common symptom. Friends who don’t want to talk or socialize anymore could be a sign of increased depression.
This holiday season, you can bring the joy anywhere with you. There are a number of ways to create a sense of community virtually. You can connect with friends and have virtual reunions via phone or video chat. Create or join online communities that provide a sense of belonging. You can also connect to the religious community you belong to and see if they are hosting their gatherings virtually. Many organizations have now turned to social media or video hosting platforms to continue to provide to their communities. If you want to feel a sense of connection with others, one of the best ways is to give back. Many of our seniors have spent countless hours volunteering their time before the onset of the pandemic but may now feel that they are limited. But community service organizations have begun to address this by offering virtual volunteering opportunities. Reach out to the organizations you are committed to and see how you may be able to continue to give back.
The holidays this year may look different, but they don’t have to be a bummer. Staying in-touch and being able to share in the holiday spirit can happen with some ingenuity and the use of technology. We hope you remain safe and healthy and enjoy the holiday festivities this year!