Where to begin ?  2020 has been an absolutely horrible year for so many with increased social and racial tensions, violence, economic ruin, sickness and death all under the never ending threat of the COVID virus.  Indeed, these have been depressing times.  Worse, the unexpectedly long duration of this plague has worn down the our resolve, exhausted our energy and dampened the joy of the holiday for many .  This year  depression is not simply a clinical diagnosis. For many it is a daily reality.                                                                          


Nonetheless, the end of the year has brought signs of hope.  We have new president who acknowledges the reality of the viral threat and is committed to waging a vigorous and unified attack against the disease. Most importantly, the arrival of effective vaccines will mean that the end of the devastation and death is in the foreseeable future.


Whether you suffer from depression which pre-existed COVID or whether life over the past few months has simply become too much, here are some tips to help you cope with the holidays and make it to the new year:

  1. Acknowledge and Be Aware. Even if you have not been directly touched by the virus, understand that this pandemic affects you. Become self-monitoring and pay attention to the things that aren’t right in your life.  Are you more fatigued, irritable or having trouble sleeping ? These, in addition to sadness and tearfulness,  are just some of the symptoms which reveal that depression maybe affecting your mood, your ability to concentrate or simply enjoy life.
  2. Focus on Self-Care. Since no one can control or predict when the COVID crisis will end, it is especially important that you attend to your own (and those you love) self care. Self-care means that you attend to things like getting enough sleep, eating right and being active . It means learning and employing good stress management techniques like journaling, getting regular exercise and taking breaks to meditate or just listen to music or read.
  3. Talk about it. It is important during times of shared stress to talk and listen to others. Having and giving support to people you trust is a crucial part dealing with life’s challenges and especially the coronavirus.
  4. Don’t Isolate.   Depression makes us want to withdraw and hide. Don’t do it.  Even if you don’t feel like it , it is important to “fake it ’til you make it”.  Pulling back and becoming less active can intensify and worsen depressive symptoms.  If you live alone or without friends or family, go on-line and check out social media for virtual groups which you can join.  Make an effort to connect with folks around things that interest you including support groups for depression.
  5. Think About the Ways You Cope.  During times of stress, we become vulnerable to things like over-eating, drinking too much  and other potentially destructive activities that we use to distract us , lift our mood or calm our anxiety.  When we are depressed, we often become irrational and can become so discouraged that we do risky things just to have a temporary escape.  Before the impulse to do foolish things becomes irresistible, seek medical and professional help.  Doctor-supervised medication is certainly better than trying to self-medicate with intoxicating or recreational substances. Likewise, psychotherapy can be the crucial  difference between successful coping and despair.
  6. Step Back and Gain Perspective. Depression is not a steady state experience. It has its higher and lower moments.  During those times when you feel less depressed, it is a good idea to step back and think about life from a bigger perspective. For example , although COVID is certainly terrible, it is not the first time our nation or the world has faced a crisis. Realizing , especially now that a vaccine is available ,that there is a light at the end of this long tunnel will help to inspire hope.  Indeed, the loss of hope is perhaps the most devastating aspect of depression  and it is what is most needed to break its grip.  It is times like these in which our faith traditions can be most helpful.  Sacred texts  affirm that, in spite of death and suffering, there is a transcendent meaning which exists and endures.  Ancient traditions and rituals continue to express the deep spiritual beliefs which science and logic cannot .


As we move through this holiday season, take time to open yourself to the spirit of the times.  In truth, the essence of the holiday time is the expression of lightness and hope which appears in the the midst of darkness. May the spirit of Christmas and Hanukah uplift you and those you love this holiday season.

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC  12 15 2020

Image acknowledgement and attribution: (istockphoto.com)