“For Everything There is a Season”
Each year there are Health and Behavioral Health Observances for every day, week, and month of the year. The weeks from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s are already filled with plenty to do. Who has time for observances? This six-week holiday period is already busy enough. While most of us look forward to getting together with family and friends during the holiday season, many people feel stressed out. Up to 69 percent of people feel stressed by lack of time according to a study by the American Psychological Association (APA). Women in particular experience more stress during the holidays. To find out more about the APA study and what it found about women and holiday stress, check out the Catalyst blog post Ho-Ho-Ho or No-No-No: Stress, Recovery, and Coping During the Holidays.
In addition to the usual expectations and pressures, the pandemic is putting a damper on the holiday season for everyone in several ways. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” means something far different when we are afraid of “getting” COVID-19 or of “giving” it to someone else, and neither one is something we want. This means that while we yearn to celebrate with family and friends, there is a constant push-pull between what we want and the advice of experts that will help us to stay healthy and keep our loved ones safe. Many people have less income due to job loss or working fewer hours, meaning that finances are more of an issue than ever before. According to the APA study, up to 69 percent of people are stressed by feeling a lack of money and 51 percent are stressed about perceived pressure to give or get gifts. Rates of homelessness have increased during the pandemic.
Some people are dealing with illness or loss of a loved one. Many people are feeling the effects of long-term isolation. Many are having difficulty coping and those with behavioral health issues can be at risk for risky behaviors. The following statistics underscore the impact of COVID-19 on substance use disorders (SUDs) and mental health.
Drug use has increased since March when the COVID-19 National emergency was declared.
- Fentanyl use is up by 31.96%
- Methamphetamine use is up by 19.96%
- Cocaine use is up by 10.06%
- Heroin use is up by 12.52%
Overdoses have increased by 42% since the beginning of the pandemic in early January 2020, and drug-involved deaths have continued to rise during the first part of 2020 across the U.S. During this same time infection rates continue to rise, with more than 1 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. during the past 7 days alone at this writing. Risks and outcomes for patients with SUDs are higher, with both higher rates of infection and higher death rates than people without SUDs (Wang et al., 2020).
So instead of adding yet another observance, maybe it is time to focus on the ones we already have and try a few tips that will make them more meaningful, help us to cope better, be more kind to ourselves and others, and possibly create some new “traditions” in the process.
Know The Signs of Stress
A handy fact sheet from SAMHSA describes common signs of stress, how to recognize it, and when to get help. “Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks” tells us that even news of a distant outbreak can make us feel stressed or anxious. While the fact sheet contains a more complete list of signs, the behavioral, physical, emotional, and cognitive responses to an infectious disease outbreak can include:
- An increase or decrease in your energy and activity levels
- An increase in your alcohol, tobacco use, or use of illegal drugs
- Worrying excessively
- Stomach aches, headaches, or other pains
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling anxious, depressed, or angry
- Feeling forgetful or confused
- Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating
What To Do If You Are Feeling Stressed or Anxious
Things that can help prevent stress and anxiety include:
- Eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water
- Avoiding or eliminating caffeine and alcohol
- Abstaining from tobacco or illegal drugs
- Getting enough sleep and rest
- Getting physical exercise
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has informational bulletins in English and Spanish with tips for coping during the pandemic and resources for additional assistance.
This handy wallet card “Tips for Managing Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic” can be printed out and carried as a reminder. The wallet card from SAMHSA suggests the following stress reduction techniques:
- Tai Chi or Yoga
- Deep Breathing
- Write About What You Are Thankful For
- Take a Nap
- Play With a Pet
- Listen to Music
- Take a Walk
A Spanish version of the wallet card is also available from SAMHSA.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests that holiday situations can trigger difficulties for those suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses. Family gatherings, grief over the loss of a loved one, or having unrealistic expectations for a perfect holiday can trigger difficulties. The NAMI “Avoiding Holiday Stressors: Tips for a Stress-Free Season” web page has very useful suggestions for avoiding stress during the holidays, including making and sticking to a budget, planning ahead so shopping and other tasks are accomplished in smaller increments without overwhelming you, shopping during less busy times or online, and above all, being kind to yourself by turning off the inner critic. If you are unsure of how to have a support network in place, NAMI suggests that you ask yourself “What Does Support Mean to You?” and consult with a professional to prepare a plan that works for you. Your individual plan may include support from loved ones, professionals, support groups, or even services that can accomplish some of the time-consuming tasks that keep us from enjoying the fun parts of the holidays. Strategies such as cleaning services, shopping services, asking for help to hang the outdoor lights, or having groceries delivered can make sense if they help you to feel less stressed and anxious.
What do you do to cope with stress and anxiety during the holiday season? Please share your personal strategies in the comments below.
For additional reading on holiday strategies for those in recovery and family and friends who support them, enjoy the following Catalyst blog posts from our archives:
In Recovery in the Food & Beverage Service Industry During the Holiday Season
Ho-Ho-Ho or No-No-No: Stress, Recovery, and Coping During the Holidays
Tips for Avoiding Alcohol Over the Holidays
Supporting Recovery: What Recent Research Tells Us
How COVID-19 Can Impact People in Recovery and What Providers Can Do About It
Coping with a Pandemic: How Behavioral Health Providers Can Help Clients with Mental and Substance Use Disorders Meet the Challenges of COVID-19
What’s in Your Self-care Toolbox?
Laughter is the Best Medicine
Yoga and Self Care
Take 5: Tackling Stress at the College Level
Syrek, C. J., Weigelt, O., Kühnel, J., & de Bloom, J. (2018). All I want for christmas is recovery – changes in employee affective well-being before and after vacation. Work and Stress, 32(4), 313-333. doi:10.1080/02678373.2018.1427816
Wang, Q. Q., Kaelber, D. C., Xu, R., & Volkow, N. D. (2020). Correction: COVID-19 risk and outcomes in patients with substance use disorders: analyses from electronic health records in the United States. Molecular psychiatry, 1. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-020-00895-0