Taking Care of My Mental Health During This Pandemic Holiday Season

A shape of a person's head filled halfway with bright, colorful holiday items including a snowman, christmas tree, ornaments, and a santa hat, juxtaposed with greyed out items on the rest of the face. The background is a gray cloudy sky.
Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock

The holidays can bring about emotions ranging from happiness and excitement to stress, grief, and loneliness. Figuring out how to navigate the many different elements of the holidays can be complicated, but it’s even more so this year as the COVID-19 pandemic surges. I find myself trying to hold on to moments of joy, embracing the different kind of holiday ahead, and holding everything together during a year when everything feels full of unpredictability, loss, and chaos.

As someone with multiple disabilities, I have always started planning early for what’s needed for the holidays. This planning typically starts around mid-October as I make a list of what is most important to me and what I want to participate in, and I check in with family and friends to see what their tentative plans are that they would like me to attend. This is helpful to me because although the holiday season is one of my favorite times of the year, it is also one of the most difficult for me. I love the decorations, music, and lights of the holiday season, but I struggle with sensory overload, crowds, and the social expectations and requirements of holiday gatherings. So, I plan to shop online or do curbside pick-up during the weekday early or late store hours. This year especially, I am sensory-friendly holiday activities in my own home, while scheduling zoom holiday calls with no more than one household at a time. I also struggle with anxiety and depression as I am reminded of the sudden loss of family members and friends during past Novembers and Decembers. So, I have put some support meetings on my calendar as well.

Right now, it’s hard dealing with the guilt of not seeing family members, especially knowing how precious time is and that moments together again are not guaranteed. I feel responsible for being immunocompromised and high risk because it has impacted our family holiday decisions during this pandemic holiday season, creating more isolation. Managing my different traits related to my disabilities and participating in virtual events and social calls is difficult for me, but I only feel more isolated if I don’t participate. These feelings make it challenging for me to maintain and cope with all aspects of my recovery and health, and I feel guilty for struggling.

I am working on coming to terms with how different this holiday season will be, and I am being kind and gentle with myself. But every day seems to be filled with navigating difficult conversations and decisions, experiencing disruptions in routines, and handling conflicting wants and needs among family and myself related to mental and physical health and safety. There are constant changes with lots of unknowns and I can’t seem to shake my struggling. So, I came up with these little self-care reminder messages to help me navigate the holiday season this year, and I hope you might benefit from them, too.

  1. Every feeling I am having at this moment is valid.
  2. I choose how I navigate difficult conversations in ways that are best for me.
  3. It’s OK to struggle, and it’s OK to ask for help and seek support.
  4. When being kind and gentle to yourself is difficult, remember you are worth it. All acts of self-care, no matter how small, are a way to show yourself kindness and gentleness.
  5. It’s OK to pause, unplug, and take a break.
  6. Safety being a priority is valid, period.
  7. Having feelings doesn’t automatically mean relapse. It’s OK to feel what I am feeling.
  8. I choose to make space for my grief at every step of the grief process and that’s OK.
  9. I choose to make space for my healing at every step of the process and that’s OK.
  10. Take it one moment at a time.
  11. My best is good enough. Who I am is enough.
  12. My life, wellbeing, and safety are not dispensable.
  13. My boundaries are valid, period.

Click here to pitch a blog post to Rooted in Rights.

Kris McElroy is a writer, artist, advocate, human services professional, and life coach. Born and raised in Maryland, he is a biracial black transgender man with multiple disabilities who enjoys cooking, adaptive sports, traveling, creating, and spending time with his wife and family. He received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in Multidisciplinary Human Services from Capella University.