Coping with a Covid Christmas
Christmas can be a stressful period at the best of times. Throw in the prospect of social distancing, curfews, social limitations and travel restrictions and it’s fair to say that the blanket level of anxiety this winter could be somewhat ‘enhanced’.
Over the years I’ve helped people cope with a host of difficult and highly stressful situations. Here are my tips for dealing with this coming festive season:
Although tempting, running away just isn’t viable at the moment. Firstly, travelling to another country is hardly a stress-free option (even if it is possible) and secondly, this is a GLOBAL pandemic - there is no escape! So, in order to deal with a situation you first need to step up and take responsibility for your own response to it. How? By accepting it as your new reality, but remember...
You are safe and warm. Everything is going to be OK and this situation isn’t going to last forever.
I’m certainly not suggesting restricting your enjoyment of your usual festive treats, far from
it! What I am recommending is that you incorporate a few elements that are ESSENTIAL for your mental health:
· Most people are deficient in Magnesium but it’s actually known as ‘nature’s sedative’ – it’s great at relaxing the nervous system. Taking a good quality supplement will boost your overall mood all year round but what better time for a bit of backup than over a Covid Christmas?
· Many people are deficient in Vitamin D. We produce it when our skin is exposed to direct sunlight – not easy during the winter. Low levels are linked to anxiety and depression so you can see the importance of taking a supplement.
· Tryptophan is an amino acid essential for a happy balanced life. We use it to produce the mood stabiliser Serotonin to help us manage our days then we convert it into the sleep hormone Melatonin when night time arrives. Great natural sources of Tryptophan are turkey, eggs, milk, nuts and seeds.
· Chewing on a good quality, sugar-free gum is not only a great way to prevent snacking throughout the day but it is also a great way of lowering blanket levels of stress.
Structure and discipline
It might not sound like fun but it’s one of THE most important things for maintaining mental health.
Our homes are structured anyway. We have separate areas for sleeping, entertainment, eating, bathing and relaxing. The key thing is that, when we spend an extended period at home (even during a normal holiday season), we need to keep these areas distinct and separate. This is where the discipline comes in. We must prevent cross contamination:
· Have a dedicated work zone.
· Remove all technology from your sleeping area and try to associate your bed with sleep, if you’re not tired go to a different room.
· Never use your bedroom as an office.
· Keep at least one area clean, tidy and free of clutter. Mess equals stress.
24 hour Sleep/wake cycle
Everyone is governed by these but they start and stop at different times for different people. This is a genetic thing called ‘Chronotype’. We are (mainly) either Night Owls or Morning Larks. The power is in realising that if you are a Night Owl, trying to force yourself to fall asleep at 9pm will lead to frustration, stress and anxiety similar to a Morning Lark trying to have a lie-in.
Identifying our individual Chronotype is important for our daily structure and harmonising with these is where the discipline comes in...
Morning: Set an alarm and get up – don’t press that Snooze button. Open the curtains and get as much light into the eyes as possible to stop the production of Melatonin. Make your bed, shower and get dressed for the day and wear trainers at home.
Evening: Put on your night clothes and slippers. An hour before bed put the technology down and pick up a low tech book or do some writing. Make the bedroom as dark as possible. If you need to wear an eye mask don’t use a flat one, it’ll need to be contoured in order to prevent contact with the eyelashes.
So you now know that a Covid Christmas is inevitable. The next stage is to prepare for it. Preparation is one of the best ways to manage stress. Here are my tips:
· Plan for the whole of December at least. Buy or make a monthly planner and put it on the wall with easy access and mark off every daily event you can think of with as much detail as possible, this will prevent last minute panic and schedule clashing.
· Communicate to friends and family that it won’t be the usual Christmas and its pointless stressing over presents for each other. Most people will not only agree but they’ll probably feel relieved – they’re in this too. The fewer gifts you have to think of, buy, wrap and deliver the less stressful the whole season will be for everyone!
· A positive side of the pandemic is that we are more accepting of other people’s decisions. So if you’re invited to something you really don’t want to attend just indicate that you’re not comfortable and don’t feel guilty about it. They’ll understand.
· Spend some time making a list of everyone you need to buy a present for and plan in advance the logistics and timeframe of their delivery.
· Shopping is stressful even on a ‘normal’ Christmas but if you plan ahead you can get all your present, decorations, food and drink delivered to your door.
· Give yourself this year off, be selfish and make it all about you and your household. Treat yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.
· Try to buy yourselves something that requires creativity. This period will be a great opportunity to start that hobby you’ve always wanted.
· Put a few ‘YOU’ days on the planner. It could just be lying on the sofa and watching your favourite films all day. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it reduces stress but you’ll need to stick to them even if you get invited elsewhere...you hate breaking promises to others but aren’t promises to yourself just as important?
· A great thing for our mental health is to contact people we care about. Another good thing to come out of the pandemic is how accepting others are to be contacted. Think of different people to reach out to and mark them on the calendar at different days of December.
· See this period as a fantastic opportunity to reflect on things and plan for the future. Compile a wish list of things to do, places to go and things to change. Make this list as detailed as possible and start ticking items off.
Above all, rather than thinking of the upcoming season as a COVID Christmas see it as a great opportunity to have a guilt-free COSY Christmas!
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