For many of us 2020 has been an extremely challenging year. January and February had us focused on our New Year’s resolutions, but from the 26th March 2020 our lives suddenly changed for the unforeseeable future. During the year we have navigated social isolation, new routines, mental health struggles, devastating loss and pain. The good news is that we have made it this far – proving our resilience – and despite the looming uncertainty ahead, we will make it through!
This holiday season will be unprecedented not only due to the social regulations of COVID-19, but also by the financial impact the virus has had on each of us. We may not be able to see certain family members, spoil ourselves and loved ones or take our traditional holidays. For these reasons it is imperative that we focus on keeping ourselves mentally and emotionally healthy over the holidays. Below are proposed guidelines we can all use to keep ourselves healthy during this festive season:
- Acknowledge your feelings: Societal norms encourage us to ‘push negative feelings down and only express positive ones’, forcing us to control our feelings. However, science has proven that it is important to acknowledge and process your feelings as they arise, especially negative ones. Learning to cope with and process negative feelings and emotions increases resilience and is healthy! How does one practically do this?
- Step 1: Identify and verbalise feelings as they arise, for example ‘I feel sad, afraid, frustrated, angry, and tense’ etc.
- Step 2: Once you have identified how you feel, allow yourself to experience it fully. This will be uncomfortable, as going through painful emotions is painful. That is why we try to avoid them, by ignoring, dismissing, suppressing or numbing them out with alcohol and/or other distractions. To experience your feelings effectively, create a safe space to do this, for example find time alone, or sit with a trusted friend or confidant.
- Step 3: Release your feelings, for example if you want to cry allow yourself to do that. You may think ‘If I start crying, I will never stop’, but that is not true. Expressing the emotion helps it pass, thus allowing you to regain and maintain peace of mind.
- Set realistic expectations: 2020 has been a unique year with a unique set of challenges. The holiday season is unlikely to be perfect or ‘like it was last year’. We need to adjust our expectations regarding the routines, traditions or rituals we may be accustomed to. For example:
- If visiting loved ones is not possible, use technology such as video calls, texts or emails to keep in touch and connected.
- If going on holiday is not possible, explore your city or town. Most towns have hidden treasures such as heritage sites, museums, wildlife, music or art that has gone unnoticed and yet is right under our nose. Outdoor activities can be more beneficial than we think. Getting out has the potential to lift your mood, relieve stress and anxiety and give you and your family something to look forward to.
- If you cannot afford extravagant gifts, rather write gratitude cards and give personal yet inexpensive gifts. Also consider volunteering your time to those less fortunate in your community. This may change your perspective on your circumstances, and broaden your social network.
- Practice Empathy: Although we may feel alone in our struggle, we must remember that no one has gone through the year unscathed by COVID-19. Our partner, children, extended family, friends and colleagues have ALL had a tough year. Since everyone is facing their personal struggles, they may not live up to your expectations. Try to accept family and friends for who they are and find ways to show them that you appreciate them during this time.
- Do not abandon healthy habits: Healthy habits focused on self-care have been scientifically proven to improve mental health almost immediately. As a reminder, healthy habits include:
- Sufficient sleep which improves immune function, concentration and productivity and affects emotional and social interactions.
- Regular exercise/physical activity stimulates the release of ‘feel good’ brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin which relieves pain/stress and lifts one’s mood.
- A healthy and nutritious diet which enhances mood and increases energy levels. There is no harm in indulging in treats such as chocolate, crisps or pudding, but try to avoid over-indulgence.
If you have established these habits keep them going, and if not please start! Lastly avoid excessive alcohol and/or tobacco consumption during this time.
- Reach out: If you are overwhelmed by negative feelings such as anxiety, depression, isolation or loneliness, reach out to your community for help. Of all the tips suggested, reaching out may be the most important tip to consider. Being vulnerable with someone you trust can help you release pent-up feelings, gain perspective on your situation and possibly identify solutions you had not thought of before.
Community may be in the form of a trusted friend, close colleague, family member, religious support, a mental health professional or MAYDAY-SA (www.mayday-sa.org.za). MAYDAY-SA is a group of aviation professionals who are passionate, well-trained volunteers with the ability to provide an empathetic listening ear to aviation license holders in times of stress. We create a safe space for you to share your burdens and are governed by confidentiality. We will be available over the holiday season, so please make use of this free resource if in need.
Practical Tips on Keeping Physically Safe During the Holidays
In addition to guarding our mental and emotional health and safety over the holidays, it is also important that we guard our physical safety. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our economy, the aftermath of which is escalating crime. Reading up on the robbery research in South Africa to identify trends, as well as executing tips such as changing your routine or increasing your security can be extremely important. Dr Rudolph Zinn wrote a book on Home Invasion which has incredibly useful information on how to keep yourself and your home safe. Please refer to the following link for some helpful insights: Understanding and preventing house robbery in South Africa – RRVA.
- Zinn, R. 2010. Home Invasion – robbers disclose what you should know. Cape Town: Tafelberg Publishers.