No question about it. Holidays seem to be out to get us this year.
The winter holiday season has always been seen as a chance to gather with family and friends for meals, gift exchanges and religious services. Yet, during the COVID-19 pandemic many of us spent the holidays alone or in small groups. Gone were the trappings of hours at the mall picking out the perfect gift for a loved one or spending long days and evenings gathered with others for meals and good cheer. It was difficult, especially for those who live alone.
And yes, coming right behind the winter holiday season is that special day known as the poster child for hugs, kisses and all sorts of intimacies - Valentine’s Day! And again, the coronavirus pandemic is going to change how that looks for many of us.
We are now beginning to emerge from the worst weeks of the pandemic. Following the Thanksgiving and December holidays, Los Angeles County reached record-breaking numbers of cases and deaths each day. The shock and toll this has put on our healthcare workers and hospitals has been unprecedented. What followed was another lockdown, limiting most services and shutting down outdoor dining.
Although we are starting to see a dip in numbers of cases and deaths, they are still at stratospheric levels. Although there is a return to outdoor dining and additional retail and services, experts urge us to stay just as vigilant. That means always wearing your mask in public, staying 6 feet or more apart and washing our hands. And not gathering with people outside our bubbles.
But how does that work on Valentine’s Day? Just like we’ve been doing all year, it means we must be careful, creative and resilient.
If you are a couple and living in a bubble with that person, you might have to forgo the candle lit dinner inside a cozy restaurant, but you can still eat outside or order takeout from your favorite place.
If you are single or not living with your significant other, you may want to find ways to celebrate, safely, with friends or family. A long walk together. An exchange of flowers (better yet plants! Spring is coming). Or just a phone call to a loved one.
Because just like it was in November and December, holidays are not going to look like they did in past years. And people are spending much more time alone or apart from their loved ones.
REMEMBER: It’s Okay to be Sad this Year
It’s okay to feel sad about the holidays this year. Experts believe stress caused by the holiday season comes from people’s expectation to feel happy. Understand that those feelings are normal. Whether you have lost a loved one or not, we are all grieving what our holidays looked like in the past.
Reach Out if YOU Need Help
If you feel alone, look for things that can provide companionship. Virtual religious and social events can help. Calling friends or family members can lift your spirits. Doing these things even when we don’t feel like it can make you feel better during this time.
Reach Out to Others
Volunteering can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It can also help give our holidays more purpose. Suicide hotlines need people to answer the phones. The Red Cross has virtual volunteering opportunities as well. Just because we’re home, doesn’t mean we can’t help others.
Get lots of sleep, get regular exercise, and eat fresh foods. When possible, engage in physical activity outside, where it is safe to do so. Avoid excessive alcohol or drug use. Healthy habits make us feel better, especially during times of stress.
Take a Break
Taking a walk, listening to music or just sitting quietly for 15 minutes, can really lower your stress level. It even helps to just make sure we are taking deep breaths throughout the day. Once we take care of ourselves, it means we can then care for others around us.
Seek Professional Help if You Need It
If you notice you are starting to feel unable to do things you normally do or are experiencing lasting periods of anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, irritability, problems sleeping or impulsivity, reach out to your doctor or a mental health processional and share your concerns. There are free resources available to help you during this time.
The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) supports the wellbeing of our County residents and communities. LACDMH’s Help Line is available 24/7 to provide mental health support, resources and referrals at (800) 854-7771.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline Database or call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) (operated 24/7), for information and referrals if you or a loved one are facing mental health and/or substance use issues.
Remember: We are in this together and we will get through this together.