The holiday season is a stressful time and navigating the holidays during the Covid-19 pandemic can be exceptionally difficult. If you are facing big and overwhelming emotions right now, you are not alone. During this time of quarantine, managing your mental health will take more effort than ever before, because your lifestyle has changed in ways you do not have control.
Maybe restricted access to family and friends has left you experiencing the loneliness of isolation. Maybe unboundaried family time during quarantine has left you frustrated, overwhelmed, and on edge. Financial changes may have made the pressure to buy gifts even more stressful. Maybe you are navigating virtual socializing or pressures to socialize in person that leave you anxious and confused. The loss of loved ones amidst all of this can leave grief unbearable. Maybe you are like many managing the fear triggered by changing restrictions in response to surges in pandemic fatalities. It all takes a toll on your mental health and requires attention.
Managing your mental health this holiday is a decision. Much like managing your physical health, it requires intentionality. You make the decision to drink more water, eat more of certain foods, exercise, visit the doctor. Your mental health requires the same intentionality. As a training psychologist, I had the privilege of working at Sharp Psychiatric Hospital. It was during my Adult Inpatient rotation that I learned an acronym that reminded patients how to intentionally engage their mental health on a daily basis. It was immensely useful to patients then and I still continue to teach it to patients, staff, and anyone who will listen. It’s GRAPES.
Gentle with Self. This is a time of transition and stress. Navigating the holidays during a pandemic is un-chartered territory. Consider examining your negative thoughts about yourself and confronting them with compassion, understanding, kindness. You are doing the best you can. Now is not a time to be perfect. It is ok to take a break. Give yourself permission and space to feel your feelings. Have a good cry.
Relaxation. It is likely this time of the COVID-19 quarantine has triggered a host of tension. Take a few moments to relax in an active way. This is not the time you spend watching tv or playing video games. This is time you are choosing to do something to bring the tension in your body and mind down. These are activities like yoga, meditation, deep breathing, reading, soothing music, taking a bath, etc.
Accomplishment. You are likely pushing yourself to do a lot and somedays are harder/ easier than others. Take a moment and give yourself credit for what you have been able to accomplish without criticizing how good, how much, how perfect it was done -as we so often do. Today you made a plan to call a friend or wash the dishes or spend time with your family and you were able to do it- bravo to you.
Pleasure. Tune into your five senses and engage one or several. Take time to feel the coziness of a soft sweater, see a beautiful landscape photo, listen to the voice of someone you love, mindfully taste something that is delicious, smell your favorite scent.
Exercise. You don’t have to run a marathon, but move your body. Go for a walk, stand and vacuum, dance to your favorite song.
Socialize. Take time out and talk to someone. Engage in a phone call or a virtual visit with someone. This is beyond texting and emailing- this requires the spontaneity of hearing and/or seeing someone else and engaging social cues and conversation.
Here is a tip: you can do one activity and get most of your GRAPES. Make a plan to do a video chat with a friend where you both are cooking the same recipe. How many grapes are those?
Do your best to engage in as many GRAPES as you can in a mindful way, but do not criticize yourself for not getting to them all. Pre-plan your GRAPES activities over the holidays. Be sure to also include some down town.
If you are having significant difficulty with your mental and emotional health, do not be afraid to reach out to a mental health expert like a therapist.