Protecting Mental Health Could Be the Greatest Gift this Holiday Season

Typical holiday traditions such as secret santa gatherings and shopping for gifts are no longer an option during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo Courtesy of Unsplash.

This has been far from a normal semester. As much as the media and marketing teams have promised the “new normal,” masks on the quad and socially distanced SUB meetings are a far cry from what the SUNY New Paltz campus looked like in the fall of 2019. And moving into the holiday season, instead of Secret Santa parties and long study nights in the library, the campus will be bare. Finals will be given online from the comfort of students’ homes. Of course, this is the safest option. But it is also the most isolating. 

There are some things that might help the loneliness, especially moving into a season that is normally filled with so much gathering and reunion. According to the Los Angeles Times, “pandemic Holiday Season 1.0 is taking its toll on psyches and pocketbooks.” 

The first is simple, and yet so many people need to be reminded: it’s okay to ask for help. For college students, everything can seem overwhelming; finals season overlaps with multiple holidays on top of general pandemic anxiety. Many students have mentioned the shortening of the semester and little break time as another cause for stress. Tell someone how you are feeling, whether it is a family member or a trusted friend. At New Paltz, we even offer a hotline service: OASIS that can be reached at 845-257-4945. Even if they don’t offer any helpful advice, it might be necessary to talk it out and stop anxious rumination. 

Second, make sure you know what to expect when it comes to finals. Don’t be blindsided by three projects the night before they are due. Take a look at the syllabus and see what is coming up, and what options you have should you not get something done on time. Most professors can be lenient depending on the situation, but it is best to know in advance what will be the easiest to tackle and what is going to take a bit longer to complete. 

Third, take time to make traditions a bit more special this year. Even if you can’t exactly gather for Hanukkah celebrations or pile in the car for a Christmas Eve service, maybe a holiday movie night could substitute until next year. Or take a trip around town in the car with some homemade hot cocoa and cookies to see the lights. Zoom meetings are not anywhere near the same as having the whole family around, but maybe exchange recipes with extended family so you can have Aunt Gail’s pumpkin pie. Not the same as her jokes, but it’ll do. 

The fourth and final tip for the holiday season as the isolation might start to hit, is to remind yourself of what you can be grateful for. The pandemic has taken away a lot from our lives. Don’t let it take away the love and compassion we have for one another. Don’t let it rob you of the joy you might have on Christmas morning, with or without presents from Santa. Maybe instead of holiday shopping and competing for who has the best gift, it is a time to reflect and spend time playing games with your household family members. A word of warning: don’t feel bad about not feeling positive all the time. Some days are harder than others, and the holiday season, though fun for some, can be difficult. There will be good and bad days, and both are acceptable. 

It’s okay to remember that this is not a normal holiday season, and the terms for dealing with the emotions associated with that are not always cut and dry.