Illustration of people reading and exercising

How to cope during a difficult holiday season

December 4, 2020


Camilla Nonterah, assistant professor of health psychology, studies positive health behaviors, which can provide insight on how to deal with the difficult emotions many people face during the holidays. During this pandemic holiday season, she offers insights on avoiding its emotional pitfalls and how  to connect with those who may already be facing challenges.

What is emotional resiliency, and why does it matter today perhaps more than ever?

Resilience is defined as the process of adapting positively to adversity, trauma, threats, and significant life stressors. The ability to recover from life stressors and challenges and adapt to the new normal also determines resiliency. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for emotional resiliency given interruptions to daily functioning, especially social activities.

What are some tips for those worried about their mental health?

The best way to approach the holidays is to recognize that this year will be different, and to focus on the positive aspects of the holidays instead of thinking about what you’ve lost or are unable to do this year. Engaging in self-care is crucial if you’re concerned about your mental health. This includes exercising, engaging in hobbies such as reading, knitting, or baking, and spending quality time with family and friends even if it’s via phone or video chat. You can try to share the holiday spirit by doing something nice for a neighbor or stranger.


You can have a plan and still encounter some challenges, so remember to have some self-compassion.
headshot of Camilla Nonterah
Camilla Nonterah
Assistant professor of health psychology

What about setting realistic expectations, as some may focus on what’s not possible this year?

Enjoy the simple pleasures and set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals. For example, everyone in the family can be responsible for coming up with family activities that are COVID-safe, and by the end of the week, each family member would have had the chance to participate in a different activity. This will allow you to focus on the things you can still enjoy instead of what you’ve lost.

What else can be done now to prepare our physical, mental, and emotional health for the winter months?

The best thing to do is to have a plan for maintaining the activities that keep you healthy. This includes exercising, spending time with people who keep you in good spirits, knowing when to say no when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and knowing when to ask for help, especially professional help. It is also important to note that you can have a plan and still encounter some challenges, so remember to have some self-compassion.

Are there groups of people we should be more concerned about right now?

Unfortunately, people who may have already been experiencing challenges before the pandemic may experience an exacerbation of these challenges, including individuals from low income backgrounds. Also, this holiday season may be particularly difficult for older adults who live alone. You can offer support to these groups by donating time or resources.