Mental Health Experts Offer Advice for the 2020 Holiday Blues

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The coronavirus pandemic has made 2020 the year of virtually connecting with the people you love, but as we all know, the online world can't replace our physical one. For those who live far away from relatives and friends, solely seeing them through a screen can be difficult. This is especially the case now that the holidays are here, considering that many are still quarantined and won't feel safe traveling to spend time with family and friends.

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For those who feel sad and lonely while quarantined this holiday season, we reached out to mental healthcare experts for advice. Though feeling sad is perfectly normal and valid, we hope this expert guidance can offer you solace.

1. Stick with family traditions.

"Sticking with some of your family traditions can be an important way to connect," Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Nikita Banks, author of ​Finding Happy​, tells Hunker. "Taste and smell are very important to activating old sensory memories that can create a powerful connection, so stimulate your senses."

This can be in the form of having a relative send you a family recipe and ingredients, and cooking the recipe with them virtually. It could also manifest as you and your family video-chatting while partaking in family traditions. Banks adds that this type of planning and routine can calm your holiday anxieties.

2. But also, don’t be afraid to start your own traditions.

If you don't have any family traditions to partake in or are unable to connect with relatives in that way, Dr. Jillian Blueford — an educator, counselor, and grief therapist — tells Hunker, "Often we think of the holiday season as a time filled with traditions, but all traditions were once new ideas at one time. Use 2020 as an excuse to step outside your comfort zone and make some new traditions and memories!"

3. Limit social media use.

"During the holidays, it's easy to watch stories of people's Thanksgiving spreads and their gift exchanges," licensed marriage and family therapist Camille Tenerife tells Hunker. "Social media tends to highlight the happy and positive moments in people's lives, and as social creatures, we have a natural desire and tendency to compare." With this in mind, Tenerife advises that you set a timer or personal limit on social media, and make yourself more aware of the content you consume (and how it affects you).

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4. Be open with loved ones about how you feel.

Being vulnerable is hard, especially during what is supposed to be the "greatest time of the year," but that doesn't mean you should silence yourself.

"Begin to have discussions with loved ones about how to be emotionally and physically supportive of each other over the holiday season, based on realistic personal needs," advises Michigan-based therapist Allanté Burnell. "Do not be afraid to set emotionally healthy boundaries, establish guilt-free quarantine parameters, and learn how to enjoy personal time without external influence."

Specifically, Burnell recommends critically looking at what triggers sadness, anxiety, and other emotions during the holiday season. Take the time to figure out which holiday values and traditions are actually right for you and your mental health.

5. Find ways to give back.

According to Mayo Clinic, research has shown that volunteering can decrease the risk of depression, reduce stress levels, and provide one with a sense of purpose. Though volunteering may look different during the pandemic, that doesn't mean you can't find safe ways to do so.

"A sure key to happiness is giving back," says Tenerife. "Try and research local volunteer opportunities in your area during this time (following COVID-19 protocols, of course). One good way is to utilize the app Nextdoor. It is a hub for everything happening in your neighborhood. If you can't find any organized groups, try to do little things for people throughout the day. Buy someone's coffee, compliment someone's hard work, or simply send a text to someone you haven't talked to in a while."

6. Self-care in a way that is actually aligned with your needs.

Checking in with yourself and addressing ​your​ specific needs is always important, but is especially so when you're feeling isolated. "Self-care is necessary, especially during this pandemic," psychotherapist Alyssa L. McCall tells Hunker. "And to be clear, not the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all definition of self-care, but self-care that is aligned with what YOU need and what helps YOU to feel recharged mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually."

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In other words, experiment and find what works for you instead of going along with someone else's version of self-care. This holiday season is the perfect time for you to try new things and find new ways to address your personal needs.

If you need additional support, the National Alliance on Mental Health HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or info@nami.org. If you require crisis support, you can text NAMI to 741-741 at any time. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 800-273-TALK (8255).

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Anna is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor who covers lifestyle and design content for Hunker. She's written for Apartment Therapy, the L.A. Times, Forge, and more. She previously worked as the lifestyle editor at HelloGiggles and deputy editor at So Yummy. Her email: anna.gragert@hunker.com

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