Managing Holiday Stress During COVID-19

The pandemic has kicked holiday stress into high gear. Find out how to take care of yourself emotionally and physically this holiday season in Macomb County and beyond.

A family in PJs talks to a tablet

With all of the planning, family gatherings and traditions, the holidays are a stressful time of the year under normal circumstances. And this year’s season looks to be even more so as we approach Thanksgiving smack in the middle of a second wave of the coronavirus.

So, how can families in Macomb County and beyond keep themselves sane while planning their seasonal festivities and ensure that family members will head into the New Year with a clean bill of health?

Agnes Ward, a licensed psychologist and the chief clinical officer with Macomb County Community Mental Health, offers her advice on making the most of the season and still prioritizing everyone’s health and wellness.

Celebrating the season

While many families have become accustomed to holiday traditions over the years, visiting grandma or inviting the extended family might not be the best option in 2020. Instead, Ward suggests families explore other options.

“I think one of the things families should consider with COVID right now is doing a virtual Thanksgiving dinner or a virtual Christmas dinner to prevent the risk of re-exposure,” she says, adding that families can make their own meals and then eat together through Zoom or another video chatting site.

The Three-Week Pause, which Gov. Whitmer announced on Sunday, Nov. 15, restricts gatherings to two households, but if your family insists on getting together for the holidays, Ward urges you to follow the COVID-19 safety protocols outlined by the CDC, which includes wearing a mask and maintaining social distance — especially when indoors.

“Consider everyone bringing their own food to eat, instead of a potluck-style meal,” she adds. “If food does have to be cooked and prepared for everyone, only one person should handle the food and others should avoid congregating around the food area when it is served.”

Families that volunteer or go to church for the holidays can still do so, Ward says, but they should still follow safety protocols while at these places, too.

Caring for your mental health this year

In addition to your typical holiday stressors such as shopping at crowded malls and planning your holiday get-togethers, the 2020 season is going to come with fear and anxiety surrounding the pandemic and the recent spike in cases.

Families need to understand that not everyone is going to be comfortable going to family gatherings and should forgive their loved ones if they choose not to join in the festivities or opt for an alternative celebration.

On the other side of that coin, Ward says that moms and dads should also allow themselves some flexibility and give themselves ample time to shop for gifts or otherwise prepare, along with the opportunity to say no, when needed.

It’s also important that you take care of yourself, too. This includes eating well, getting exercise and spending some time outside — along with reaching out to loved ones to help keep you grounded or exploring mental health resources such as Michigan Stay Well Counseling, which offers free and confidential support help 24/7.

But above all this year, Ward says, it’s important to cut yourself some slack.

“It’s OK to have a virtual dinner. It’s OK to decline hosting and it’s OK to decline to be a guest at somebody else’s gathering,” she explains. “This year, it’s OK if they don’t fulfill all of the obligations that they used to… It’s OK to do things a little bit differently.”

For more information on celebrating the holidays during COVID or for details about living in Macomb County, visit the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development at Make Macomb Your Home.

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