Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

By Leah Harris

Though they can bring so much joy, the holidays have long been a source of stress for many people, even in the “Before Times.” So very much has happened between the 2020 holiday season and this one. Importantly, the approval of the Covid-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up, and boosters for adults, has allowed for opportunities to travel and see loved ones in person with a greater degree of safety. However, rising COVID case rates, even in highly vaccinated areas, are causing people to feel afraid or unsure about holiday plans. 

These additional layers of uncertainty, on top of the ongoing uncertainty that people have been experiencing, can cause already-high stress levels to skyrocket. According to one expert, “The stress of uncertainty, especially when prolonged, is among the most insidious stressors we experience as human beings.” Below we offer some ideas for moving through the ups and downs of this holiday season while protecting your mental wellness.

Attend to your grief.

Families and communities may be reeling from the loss of loved ones due to COVID, overdose, or other tragic losses. And the holidays may have already been a source of grief for LGBTQ+ folks, people in recovery, trauma survivors, or others who are estranged from their families of origin. If grief is present for you this holiday, you can take some time to consider how you will consciously attend to it. Will you need to slow down and do less? Create distractions? Establish new traditions? Trust what your grief is telling you.

Anticipate travel anxiety.

Traveling may feel strange, scary, or disorienting – especially for folks who may be traveling for the first time since 2019. Consider your go-to strategies for working with panic and anxiety, and see if you can be extra intentional about incorporating those into the trip. Some folks find it helpful to create or update a soothing playlist of music, and/or stress reduction videos, breathing exercises, or a folder of funny memes or soothing images. 

Assess your personal boundaries.

Are there conversations you won’t be engaging in with relatives? Will you be elbow or fist-bumping, and not hugging? It’s vital to be as clear as possible about your boundaries in advance, and have a response ready if someone tries to push the limits. Some folks find it useful to role-play scenarios in advance with a trusted friend or peer, so they feel more prepared in the moment. Consider your capacity and how much time you are able to spend in challenging situations before your mental health is impacted. 

Activate your 2021 holiday support team.

It can be helpful to reach out in advance to your support system, let them know what’s going on for you, and inform them how they can best support you during this holiday season. You can start a peer support text thread or schedule calls with friends and loved ones who are also likely to be having an especially tough time so that everyone can be there for each other through the ups and downs of this time of year.

Whatever your relationship to the 2021 holiday season, we hope that these strategies will be extra support for you. From all of us at PEERS, wishing you comfort, community, connection, and joy as you move through these uncertain times.

Resources for further exploration:

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.