While many people look forward to the holiday season, others dread it because it can create unique stressors and challenges. In 2020, with COVID-19 public health measures urging us to avoid in-person celebrations with other households as much as possible, this year’s holiday season will present additional mental health challenges for Canadians.

For many of us, the holiday season is a time of parties, get-togethers, and other social activities. Spending time with loved ones is a significant part of the holiday season, and if some of our loved ones are living outside our household, we may be facing a holiday season that looks very different from past years.

The isolation, rapid public health changes, and potential financial stressors of COVID-19 have taken a toll on Canadians’ mental health this year. It’s wise to prepare now for a holiday season that may present additional mental health challenges. Acknowledge your feelings about missing out on some of your typical holiday gatherings and take time to manage them healthily.

Consider the following tips to reduce your stress this holiday season as you navigate the changing conditions and public health restrictions caused by COVID-19:

  • Focus on gratitude and consider what holiday traditions you can participate in (such as decorating for the holidays or sending holiday cards), rather than focusing on what you cannot do this year
  • Get creative and consider alternative, socially-distant ways to celebrate with loved ones outside of your household, such as watching a holiday movie together over a video-conferencing app or mailing holiday treats
  • Overeating and drinking can increase feelings of depression and stress—try to limit your alcohol intake, stay active, and continue to eat a balanced diet
  • Keep tabs on your holiday spending; make a budget and stick to it to avoid debt-related stress in January
  • Share your feelings of sadness or grief with trusted loved ones; everyone is faced with the same restrictions this holiday season, and understanding that others feel the same way as you do may help you to feel less alone
  • Practice mindfulness—most meditation exercises are designed to bring your thoughts back into the present moment where it is happiest and calmest

Tips for employers

As an employer, you can support employee mental health this holiday season by following a few of these suggestions:

  • Understand that employees may be experiencing extra sadness and stress this holiday season, and demonstrate compassion toward them
  • Ensure workloads are monitored and are not excessive
  • Demonstrate your care and appreciation for your employees, whether through verbal recognition, a holiday card, or some other token of appreciation
  • Employees may be feeling pressured to maintain productivity with a reduced workforce; plan vacation schedules ahead of time to cover all staff absences, and reduce stress for employees who are scheduled to work
  • Know your employees. If you notice early warning signs of anxiety or depression, don’t diagnose but do encourage them to seek professional help
  • If you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), December is a great time to promote the program through email, handouts or workplace posters

EAP programs are economical and easy to implement and provide value throughout the year, not just during the holiday season; many plans also have mental health resources tailored to COVID-19. If you don’t have an EAP, talk to your Cowan consultant about having one added as part of your Total Compensation Package.