Art by Helen Cui
As has been said thousands of times before, the pandemic has been a trying time for everyone. Americans have to deal with unwanted stress from drastic changes in schools, trying to recover from job losses and other economic effects, or grieving over the loss of loved ones as a result of the virus, as many hundreds of thousands have done over the past ten months. With such challenging circumstances, many have found themselves with strained mental health. Around 45% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health “has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus” (PCDC). Additionally, people with preexisting mental health issues have continued to see a decline in wellness, worsening conditions that were already severe.
While school breaks are often very fun and exciting times for students, allowing a break from the pressures of school and time with friends and family, the winter of late 2020 represented precisely the opposite; planning for the holidays is a lot of work, and spending time with family can seem this way as well. Around 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse, often adding suffering with ‘seasonal depression,’ and the winter can sometimes exacerbate loneliness or stress. Though the holidays are often a time for celebration and rejoicing, the coronavirus adds further challenges, however, as many families had to spend this year’s season coping with feelings of change and loss of control as many traditions were hindered. Change is difficult, and at a very minimum people have had to confront the lack of normalcy this holiday season. When stress levels are highest, it is often tough to regroup and realize that one is struggling with mental health, which is why awareness is so crucial. While it is important to still have fun and reconnect with people as much and as safely possible, we have to be realistic with everything that has changed and we must understand the importance of recognizing our emotions and current situations even if they are hard to process. Spending time with only a handful of people within one’s personal bubble can be hard too, which is why it’s important to set aside differences and be patient, knowing that even family dynamics will probably have to change in some way, and also that others are probably struggling as well.
Of course, mental health is not just a problem during the holidays. Even though it has become an obstacle during the pandemic, mental health aid has become, in many ways, more difficult than it was prior to COVID. Only a small amount of the trillions of dollars dedicated to confronting the pandemic has been allocated to mental health, despite its clear significance to Americans’ livelihoods. Furthermore, it has been much more difficult for people to have healthy amounts of social interaction, which is a crucial part of growth and development. Having access to people you feel safe around is especially important for those who need to reach out for help, especially with more serious mental illnesses. Being exposed to screens all day only adds to the problem.
There are many strategies that one can employ to maintain positive mental health during COVID. Little ways to regain any lost sense of control, like planning ahead or spending time consciously, are good strategies to cope with change. Practicing gratitude and giving back to one’s community are also always good ideas. Make sure to leave time to relax, and not fill up one’s time with too much stress, a trap which is especially easy for students to fall into. Staying physically active as well as spending time in nature, whenever possible, is also important. Most importantly though, acknowledge your feelings and reach out for support. It can be hard, but remember you are not alone.
Mental Health Hotline (24/7 service, available for all): 1-800-273-8255
“Preparing For The Holidays During COVID-19.” Mental Health America. Accessed January 6, 2021. https://mhanational.org/preparing-holidays-during-covid-19.
“COVID-19 and Behavioral Health.” Primary Care Development Corporation. Accessed January 6, 2021. https://www.pcdc.org/covid-19-and-behavioral-health/?creative=467448378955&keyword=behavioral%20health%20and%20covid-19&matchtype=b&network=g&device=c&gclid=CjwKCAiArbv_BRA8EiwAYGs23Jv_QsI82Pwb0odG0ON_iAt0Y-heBz0BPmxQiD3c6D-mHeeT9vsfsxoCR8oQAvD_BwE.