By Leah Harris

Even before the pandemic, the holiday season was a very challenging time for folks living with mental health and substance use conditions. There is the stress of connecting with relatives, especially if there has been a history of trauma in families. For some LGBTQ people, there is the pain of being unwelcome at family gatherings while friends are posting photos of their happy holidays on social media. Add in the financial stress from social expectations of gift-giving, as well as the need to manage seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with shorter daylight hours, and it often adds up to struggle during what is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

This year has the potential to be difficult in new ways. For those who have positive relationships with family or who have carefully cultivated a chosen family, the rising coronavirus rates are already restricting travel and enjoyable holiday traditions. People will be facing an increased sense of isolation at a time when they may be struggling more than usual. And on top of this, many people are grieving the loss of loved ones this year due to the virus, which adds an additional layer of pain to an already stressful time. Here are some ideas for getting through the holidays with as much peace as possible during these times. 

Let there be light.

For many faiths, this is a season of light. A recent article in CNN Health featured experts discussing how light and color can boost your mood and help you cope. Whatever your holiday traditions are, get to decorating in a way that feels good to you, as early as possible in the season! A little bit of color can go a long way.  

Find a way to give back.

It goes without saying that helping others is a powerful mood-booster. This essay in Vox shares a whole range of practices for “shifting your focus outward” as one of the most potent ways to beat the winter blues. Unfortunately, in-person volunteer activities are reduced due to the virus, but there still are many ways to give back. If you have a car, you might deliver groceries to elders. Plug into a local mutual aid network or donate to your local food bank. Check out Feeding America’s website or foodpantries.org to find one near you.

Support BIPOC and LGBTQ businesses.

If you are financially able, consider being extra-intentional this year with your gift-giving and support small minority-run businesses! This article in VICE has suggestions for a variety of fun gifts. Here is a piece in Time featuring 20 Black-owned businesses to visit online for your holiday shopping. And here are some suggestions from the East Bay Times for going hyper-local and supporting small businesses in Oakland this season, many featuring contact-less delivery.

Safely enjoy what social activities you can.

While many traditional holiday activities are canceled this year, there are still a host of ways to get out safely and get into the spirit. This resource from ABC7.com shares a variety of COVID-safe Bay-Area activities, from holiday lights displays to free movie screenings with Cinema Under the Stars in Alameda.

Don’t grieve alone.

If you’re grieving a loss this holiday season, you don’t have to suffer in solitude. Hospice by the Bay has a variety of free and sliding scale fee virtual grief support groups, one-to-one grief counseling, and other community offerings available to California residents. Check out a variety of free grief support resources they offer, as well. 

Lean on your peers.

As always, peer support can make it easier to face complex emotions in troubled times. If you’re struggling or anticipating a difficult patch, reach out to your trusted people for support in advance, and ask them to check in on you. And if you’re in a position to do so, check on your friends who are quarantining alone or who have recently suffered a loss. Together, we will make it through an unprecedented time of year.

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Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.