The 2021 holiday season will have a distinctly different look and feel for many of us than previous years. Whether that’s due to a loss in the family, or a job, even just feelings of sadness due to social distancing and other preventive measures, feeling festive and cheerful might be the last emotions you experience.
According to Merlin Muhrer, a licensed family therapist at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, that’s perfectly okay and normal. She notes that the holidays themselves can trigger sadness, even in a non-pandemic year.
“If you try to fight the natural processing of loss and don’t go through it, then it becomes more problematic,” says Muhrer, adding that wishing those feelings weren’t there won’t make them go away. Instead, you need to find ways to help yourself actively. Here, Muhrer explains how to do just that.
Feel-better solution #1: Tap into your philanthropic side
Embracing the generosity of the holiday season as a time of giving can help you focus on filling the needs of someone who has far less. In turn, this can help you put your own life in perspective. Look for opportunities to volunteer your time and talents.
“When you’re giving something back or giving something to somebody, that can make you feel connected to your community,” Muhrer says.
Science tells us that giving back is associated with health benefits that include a lower mortality rate, decreased feelings of stress, and a reduced risk of depression. Along with its health benefits, volunteering also offers an opportunity to meet like-minded people.
Consider donating to a charity of your choice or sending care packages to children in need or soldiers overseas. If you’d like to donate your time in-person to a charitable organization, be sure to call ahead to make sure it’s a safe environment.
Feel-better solution #2: Talk it out
It may be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re feeling out of sorts (and social distancing measures likely don’t help that) but being alone too often can make you feel worse. Over time, isolation can lead to physical health problems as well.
Call a relative or coworker who you haven’t spoken to in a while. Try using technology like Skype or FaceTime to enjoy a video chat.
Feel-better solution #3: Get moving
Schedule time for physical activity, too. Take a walk or do simple chair exercises. Being active lowers stress and boosts positive feelings.
Feel-better solution #4: Reach out for professional help
Admit to yourself how you’re feeling, Muhrer says. “But then ask yourself, ‘What is the spirit of the holidays, and how can I actively contribute to that?'”
If you find that your mood affects your routine—sleeping a lot or hardly at all, losing your appetite, or lacking energy, for example—you may want to confide in your primary care physician, Muhrer says. Depression is a health condition that can be treated. Your doctor may refer you to a counselor or therapist for talk therapy.
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