In a more difficult holiday season, mental health professionals advise routine, reaching out

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While the holiday season is meant to be a time to relax, celebrate and stuff yourself with food, it can also be a source of stress and anxiety for many people.

That will be especially true this year as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts people’s usual traditions. 

Celebrating without being able to see your family, planning for the holidays with people you’ve been stuck inside with for eight months and can’t stand anymore, or celebrating after the recent death of a loved one or loss of a job are all challenges that people will have to face this winter. 

“It’s often a hard time but I think it’s a harder time this year,” said Dr. Anne Garrett-Mills, a psychiatry specialist at the Aurora Mental Health Center. 

The holiday season always brings an uptick in psychiatric needs because they are a source of strong emotions for people, Garrett-Mills said. For people who love the holidays and aren’t able to celebrate like usual because they can’t see their families or are struggling financially, the shift can be painful.

The best thing people can do to manage feelings of disappointment or loss is to reframe their expectations and find new ways to incorporate some of their previous holiday traditions, she said.

Often instead of getting creative, “people tend to decide that the limitations being placed on them are limitations that cut off everything,” she said.

If you always looked forward to going to your grandparent’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, you could try meeting online instead (Zoom is waiving it’s 45 minute time limit on Thanksgiving Day). If you always look forward to going Christmas caroling, you could make your own playlist of Christmas music to sing along to.

“Develop your own personal traditions,” she said.

Acknowledging that this year has been difficult and finding a way to memorialize it if it’s been a time of loss for you can also help to process your emotions, she said. She suggested lighting a candle in memory of people that have been lost this year or creating some other kind of spiritual ritual that’s significant to you. You don’t have to be a religious person for this to be helpful, she said.

That’s a more effective way of dealing with your emotions so you can move forward than suppressing them or feeling like you just need to toughen up, Garrett-Mills said.

In general, she’s been encouraging people to stick to a routine during the pandemic and devote time to ensuring their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual needs are all met.

But if nothing seems to be working and you’re still struggling, Mills said it’s important to reach out.

“It will not hurt you to seek out help,” she said.

Colorado’s 24/7 crisis hotline can be reached at 1(844)-493-8255.

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