How to be merry and bright for the holidays

By Jay Solman, Student Affairs and Services

This holiday season is shaping up to be unlike any other. We all know one of the most important things we can do right now to protect ourselves, our family and our friends is to keep in-person gatherings and crowds to a minimum. Yet staying in touch is still important for our well-being. Here are some strategies you can try to stay well and stay connected, while still staying safe over the winter break.

Connect and communicate with compassion

Staying connected with others is important for mental health. Angela Katsamakis, one of our Douglas College counsellors, suggests thinking about the traditions you love to share with your family and friends, and finding elements you can experience in a virtual way – maybe even creating new traditions. For example:

  • Have an ugly sweater party, or another friendly competition, over Zoom.
  • Secret Santa gift exchange, virtual edition: Drop off your gifts and host a Zoom party to open them.
  • Tired of Zoom? Go old school and write a letter or call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. 
  • Walk through your neighbourhood and take pictures of the holiday lights and decorations. Then share your favourites with friends.
  • Get into the holiday spirit by volunteering with a community organization or at a charity event. This year has been a hard year for many people. A festive atmosphere with other good people who are doing good work is a great antidote for loneliness.

The holiday season can be a great time to connect with friends and family, but it can also be a time when relationships are tested, especially with the added stress of the pandemic. Practise compassionate communication to help strengthen your relationships. If conflict arises, try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes before reacting, especially when discussing controversial topics. Be genuine and upfront about your needs and requests, and leave space for others to share their own challenges.

Expand your perspective

In addition to connecting with others, try seeking out information to expand your perspective and open your mind to new ways of understanding and thinking critically about current events.

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley put out some great research-backed practices and resources for well-being when the coronavirus outbreak started. They can help you become more aware, engaged and compassionate, while practising self-care and looking out for other people in your community.

Be mindful

Take time every day to enjoy something about the season. It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of decorating, shopping, baking and gift wrapping. But are you enjoying any of it?

  • Stop. Breathe. Savour one of those delicious holiday treats. Wrapping a gift can be a chore, or it can be a way to consider the joy it will bring to the person receiving it.
  • For most people, the holidays mean too much sugar, fat, caffeine and alcohol, and not enough exercise or sleep. One of the best ways to counter stress is to pay attention to your body’s need for nutritious food, exercise and rest.
  • If you get too stressed, take a laughter break and watch a comedy or funny holiday movie. Laughter is sometimes the best medicine, and watching other (fictional) families fumble their way through the holiday season can be an entertaining way to relieve stress.
  • Talk or write about your thoughts and feelings. Putting your experiences into words can help you recognize and understand your emotions, increase your self-awareness, and shift your outlook. This article offers different possibilities to get you started. Gratitude journaling is another practice that has been shown to boost mental health and well-being.
  • We are lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. So pull out your raincoat and find ways to enjoy the smells of the forest. Spending time in the forest can boost your mood, improve your energy and provide a deep sense of calm and restoration. If you can social distance outdoors, get outside for some movement and explore what’s right in your own “backyard.” Notice what is growing, listen for bird calls, feel the different textures of tree bark.

Reach out for support

If you find yourself in need of support over the holidays, be sure to reach out. No issue is too small or too big – if you need to talk to someone, help is available any time.

  • Here2Talk connects students with mental health supports whenever they need them. The program is free for all B.C. post-secondary students and provides confidential professional counselling and community referrals 24/7 via app, phone and web.
  • The Crisis Centre provides distress phone lines and online chat services seven days a week between noon and 1am. Services are delivered by highly trained volunteers and paid responders who provide non-judgmental emotional support through risk assessment, collaborative safety planning and short-term follow-up by phone.
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