Cancelled Thanksgiving travel plans, not seeing loved ones? How to cope with COVID during the holidays

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Angie Perrin

A man sits on the floor of Penn Station as an electronic billboard in the background reminds commuters that not traveling is the best way to keep coronavirus from spreading as Thanksgiving nears, New York, NY, November 17, 2020. Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA.

COVID-19 has killed more than 250,000 Americans so far. Others are suffering from different types of grief, like missing out on quality time with friends and loved ones, especially as Thanksgiving is approaching. Add to that the colder weather, shorter days, and still being stuck at home.

Marriage and family therapist Maria Mir says the pandemic has upended people’s usual coping mechanisms.

Loneliness and depression can be common during the holidays, especially for those who aren’t in touch with their families. But she says these emotions are now intensified, largely because people have a weakened sense of control over their lives. “We don’t know when COVID is going to end, which is the biggest part of the anxiety,” she says.

Among her clients, Mir says she’s seen a lot of women making sacrifices, such as reducing their working hours or quitting their jobs entirely, to take care of their kids and/or homeschool them. 

“That’s also caused more isolation, because now there’s no outlet. Even when you’re working from home … you are still able to talk to coworkers, there’s still some type of company presence,” she says.

Some clients have given up on celebrating the holidays altogether. “They'd rather not celebrate because to do so, it's almost more painful. They would rather kind of treat the holiday as just another day because it's easier,” Mir says. 

Climbing out of depression, breaking monotony, keeping life in perspective

Mir says depression presents itself differently for everyone, but there are some common signs, such as diet changes or a lack of motivation to socialize or exercise. 

“I always say depression is like a big black hole. If you notice it in the beginning, you can crawl out if you’re on the surface. But if you take a longer time to realize it, you're going to be falling deeper and deeper, and it's going to be harder to climb up that hole,” she says.

Financial issues and domestic violence are now more common in households, she notes. That’s partly due to being stuck in the same cycle day after day.

Mir reminds her clients that they have control of their own actions. 

People can break out of the monotony of daily life by creating new traditions, such as cooking a special dinner for household members, or sharing a meal, or exchanging gifts via FaceTime or Zoom. 

Self-care can help. Mir suggests 10 minutes of meditating, walking, or even doing nothing. 

“Just doing nothing for 10 minutes, sitting with your coffee, giving yourself a little bit of time to process and look forward to that little 10 minutes that you have to yourself … it can really change your entire day.”

It’s also important to identify things to look forward to and put the current situation into perspective. “You have to try to find the silver lining in COVID. Life has slowed down, it’s forced you to spend more time at home, everyone is doing more self-care. And it might be a nice time to have this intimate holiday, which might create different memories.” 

In the end, she advises, “You got to push through no matter how hard it is, because if you don’t do anything, it’s going to feel a lot worse.”

Credits

Guest:
Maria Mir - licensed marriage and family therapist

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Caleigh Wells, Angie Perrin