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Managing holiday stress

Personal · Dec 15, 2020

The holiday season can be a stressful time in any given year, thanks to social obligations, long to-do lists and sky-high expectations. But 2020 brings a new kind of holiday stress as we continue to navigate life during a pandemic: it’s not easy to manage cancelled traditions, isolation from loved ones and uncertainty about what the New Year will bring.

It is going to be a very different holiday season, but we can still make it a wonderful one for ourselves and for our families.

We asked TELUS’ Chief Neuroscience Officer Dr. Diane McIntosh for advice on how to cope, and make the most of this unprecedented December:

Q: As we continue navigating the pandemic, how should we approach this holiday season?

The best way to endure the challenges we will face this holiday season is to prepare for them. Be sure to make plans that are within your control, like how you will decorate your space and what special activities you will enjoy at home with your immediate family bubble, for example.

Ask your family members what fun things they would like to do this year that are completely different than usual, and take some time to think about how you will celebrate with the loved ones that you won’t be able to safely see in person. Don’t hesitate to get creative: why not deliver eggnog to your friends’ front doors so that you can all enjoy it “together” during a Zoom call on Christmas Eve.

Q: How can we stave off stress through self care and awareness?

Practicing good self care means prioritizing the things that help you stay well, so that you can manage your various roles in life with limited stress. Some of the most important ways that we can take care of ourselves include maintaining a daily routine than includes time away from work and other responsibilities (perhaps as a parent and/or a partner), making sure that we get enough sleep, and limiting our alcohol intake.

Q: What are some coping strategies for those who feel lonely or isolated during the holidays?

Being lonely and isolated is a major health hazard — it can be likened to being a smoker or suffering from obesity. If you anticipate that you’re going to experience isolation and loneliness during the holiday season, it’s important to be proactive and make plans to safely change that. Reaching out to someone that may be in a similar situation can provide an opportunity for you to connect with and support each other. Volunteering online is another positive way to stave off loneliness by making a difference in the lives of others.

Navigating New Year’s resolutions

For many of us, the New Year represents a clean slate — something that is particularly appealing after facing a global pandemic for most of 2020. Whether it’s better health, more connection, or a financial goal you’re after in 2021, we all deserve to see positive changes in our lives and in the world next year. To help set us up for success, we asked TELUS’ Chief Neuroscience Officer Dr. Diane McIntosh for tips on making smart New Year’s resolutions in the weeks to come.

Q: Is it good for our mental health to make New Year’s resolutions?

Unfortunately, about 95% of New Year’s resolutions fail due to lack of follow through. To set ourselves up for success and for good mental health — especially in 2021— we need to create plans that are reasonable and allow us to take incremental steps toward our goals. Making small changes one by one is the best way to make real, lasting changes to your life, especially if you’re beginning from a place that doesn’t feel great.

Q: What are some practical ways to set achievable goals for the New Year?

Once you decide on a goal, consult reputable sources to determine how you might achieve it incrementally. From there you can design your step-by-step plan. Then, make sure you schedule the time it takes to complete those steps in a way that works for your life — and be sure to give yourself a realistic timeline for completion. It’s also very helpful to share your goal with someone you care about who will support you in achieving it, and maybe even join you along the way.

Q: Why are personal values important when setting New Year’s goals?

Aligning your goals with your values is one of the best ways to yield the results you are looking for in your life. In order to do this successfully, you need to have an honest discussion with yourself about your priorities and what you want your life to look and feel like. Once you have a clear picture of your values, you can work backward to identify the changes that need to be made in order to align your life with those values. Then, you can determine what steps you need to take in order to realize that change.