The rush of holiday activities that are an annual source of anxiety for most people – shopping, baking, parties, cleaning, gift-wrapping and more – has been replaced by a different type of stress this year: the fear of getting COVID-19 or giving it to someone you care about. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation health-tracking poll conducted in October, two-thirds of Americans are worried they or their family members will get the virus.
That stress is perhaps being felt most keenly among younger adults, many of whom live away from home and are facing the cold reality of celebrating the holiday season alone for the first time. A recent CDC Household Pulse Survey shows that those between the ages of 18 and 29 report the highest levels of anxiety and depression symptoms of any age group; between Sept. 30 and Oct. 12, the latest survey dates available, nearly half reported symptoms of one or both conditions.
However, young people won’t have a monopoly on anxiety this holiday season. For many others, too, the loss of the gatherings and traditions surrounding the holidays will undoubtedly increase depression and cause extra stress on top of what has already been a very anxiety-inducing year. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a number of commonsense tips to help prevent unhealthy levels of stress this holiday season:
• Stay active. Physical activity can boost your mood, both in the short and long term. Even a 10-15 minute walk can help when you feel anxious or sad.
• Address loneliness. Make an effort to call, text or video chat with those who are important to you. Staying occupied every day is also helpful – an occupied and engaged mind is less likely to dwell on feelings of loneliness and sadness.
• Eat and drink well. Food impacts mood, so make sure to eat healthy most of the time and watch your intake of holiday treats. Also remember that while alcohol might lift your mood and reduce stress in the moment, it actually increases anxiety and depression over the long term.
• Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can heighten negative emotions and cause unnecessary added stress.
• Keep expectations realistic. Not everyone is on the same page when it comes to COVID-19 … and these differences have the potential to cause disappointment and disagreements. Have a clear and frank discussion with family up front.