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Beautiful mixed race woman at Christmas

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This holiday season is vastly different from any that we’ve seen before and, hopefully, from any that we’ll see in the future. 2020 has been tough on families and individuals alike — especially when it comes to mental health. According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased depression rates in all demographics of adults and these stats only scratch the surface.

“The patients I see for counseling regularly are already struggling with the idea that they haven’t seen many/most of their family members since last December. Knowing they won’t see any of them for possibly another 6-18 months is really weighing on them emotionally,” explains Erin Wiley, clinical psychotherapist and the Executive Director of The Willow Center, a counseling practice in Toledo, Ohio. “It’s a real grieving process, knowing that you should forfeit seeing loved ones for the greater good of all.”

According to Wiley, those who live in different states from their families of origin are the ones who appear to be struggling the most, in addition to those who are single during the holiday season. Of course, social distancing measures are in place to keep our loved ones safe, but that doesn’t make the isolation any easier to cope with. Here are four tips for protecting your mental health and preserving your peace this holiday season.

Release expectations

“If we let ourselves get carried away in the list of things we lost this year, it can be overwhelming and depressing,” Wiley explained. “Give yourself time to experience the sadness, disappointment, and emotional pain of this loss, then resolve to find new and creative ways to celebrate the holiday, even with the restrictions we are under.”

Focus on what’s right

“Writing and meditating on the things we are grateful for is a proven method to increase joy because it helps us find the positive, no matter our situation,” says Wiley. “If you do it every day, you will find over time that you see wonderful things all around you to add to your list for the next day’s gratitude practice.”

Give back

“At a time of year when everyone is feeling more generous- especially in a year where so many have struggled with maintaining stable income, find someone in need who you can assist,” Wiley recommended. “It can be as simple as an anonymous $10 gift card for the grocery store or gas station, or as elaborate as “adopting” a local family in need for gift giving. Keeping our eyes off of our own troubles and instead focusing on helping others is a solid strategy for increased joy.”

Stay emotionally connected

“Create new traditions with those around you, even if you can’t spend time with them in person. Families can send packages of small gifts to family members they can’t see this year, we can reach out to neighbors by sharing holiday foods, make decorations for a local nursing home, or adopt a family in need,” Wiley advised. “Online calls are still a good way to see people who we miss, even though many of us are tired of staring at screens because of work. Make it interesting: hold an online gathering where younger children ask the older generation about holidays past. Create a fun trivia contest around a holiday theme and crown a virtual winner. Send presents in the mail and open them “together” in a group online.”

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