By Sean Zucker –
Despite the jingle, the holidays don’t always feel like the most wonderful time of the year. Every December, people burn themselves out stressing the perfect gift purchases and family dinner plans. Unfortunately, this is not a normal December because, like so many other things, COVID-19 has made it much worse. Will people still flock to local malls or will they focus all their spending online? Will they avoid family members or risk their safety for one day? No one can say for sure how best to face this year’s holidays, though one thing is certain: they are going to be more stressful than ever.
Christmas seasonal stress is, of course, nothing new. Last year, in regard to the pressure-filled season, the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute’s newsletter wrote, “Because the holiday season often requires us to keep track of and pay attention to a greater number of responsibilities than usual, the brain’s prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive. Over time, a high level of demand can decrease memory, halt production of new brain cells and cause existing brain cells to die.” That’s not good. Many, of course, probably weren’t aware how thoroughly the holidays were deteriorating their bodies’ natural functioning. Most, however, realized it was no winter wonderland picnic.
A few years earlier in 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA) went as far as establishing a “Holiday Stress Resource Center” page on their site to help people cope. The page was designed to combat the negative impact holiday-related stress has on the overall health of millions of people. It offered tips on managing difficult family conversations, dealing with the pressure of gift giving and managing expectations. Additionally, the APA presented advice on how to deal with the financial stress of the season, while noting roughly 62 percent of Americans reported feeling stressed about money, according to its yearly Stress in America survey.
All these “normal” seasonal pressures are bad enough. Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent social lockdown that has absolutely gutted the economy, the stress levels people may face are only going to get worse. As of October, the United States currently has over 12.6 million people on unemployment according to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics. The related money issues this creates present a whole slew of uniquely draining challenges.
Self notes financial woes can impact an individual’s physical wellbeing by raising diastolic blood pressure, increasing muscle tension and worsening digestive symptoms. Making matters worse, when people are strapped for cash, they tend to avoid seeking mental attention, which can increase the impact of these conditions and symptoms. In fact, Self reports one in five Americans state they’ve either skipped or considered skipping a doctor’s visit because of the inability to pay medical bill. The outlet goes on to explain this can also lead to an increase in depression, anxiety and feelings of shame.
So, what can be done other than being a Grinch and calling the whole thing off? Health offered up 25 tips on facing holiday stress this season that range from managing mental health to physically altering negative habits.
For mental health, it advises getting enough sunlight even as people may feel trapped in doors for most the day. This stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorders. Similarly, going for a walk can decrease anxiety and improve sleep. Overall, Health pleads for moderation so that individuals don’t overwhelm themselves by doing too much or expecting too much. It suggests sticking to a daily routine that includes exercise and a healthy diet, limiting screen time and enjoying the time you have with loved ones.