The holiday season is already a stressful time for many people, but celebrating in the midst of a pandemic provides even more challenges to mental health.
Heading into the holiday season, the Stress in America 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis survey found that nearly 80 percent of adults say the COVID-19 pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives, while 60 percent say the number of issues America faces overwhelms them.
Twenty percent of all adults reported that their mental health is worse than it was this time last year. The biggest jump was among Gen Z adults, with 34 percent saying their mental health is worse.
Anne Mary Montero, a licensed clinical psychologist at IU Health North Hospital, said it’s not unusual to feel stress about family gatherings during the holidays, but this year she is hearing more about anguish caused by families not being able to physically be together. She said patients also are struggling with not knowing how long the pandemic will continue.
“We don’t know how or when things will shift to be different from how they are now and how to manage that with an expectation of not knowing where the light is at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It’s psychologically so difficult. Usually, we can hold on better if we know there is an end in sight.”
To cope with the additional stress of the 2020 holiday season, Montero recommends setting reasonable expectations, finding ways to connect to loved ones through technology when it’s impossible to be together, and practicing self-care, such as keeping routines and getting adequate sleep and exercise.
Montero said to look for warning signs that could indicate a loved one may need help, such as becoming verbally or emotionally distant, giving possessions away or talking of suicide. Resources to address the concerns are available through local hospital emergency rooms and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
Despite the difficulties of the 2020 holiday season, Montero said she sees reasons for hope.
“It’s absolutely amazing that people are doing as well as they are,” Montero said. “I’m seeing elevated anxiety and depression levels in our clinic, but given everything we’re facing, I think it’s astounding everyone is coping as well as they are.”