Picture of people dressed for the holidaysThe holidays can be a challenging time for anyone experiencing mental illness, anyone who has lost a loved one, and anyone with strained familial relationships. This year presents additional layers of stress as COVID precautions prevent typical social gathering. It’s important to soak in the benefits of social connection  – and there are many –  but not at the risk of your physical and mental health. 

Benefits of Connection 

Connection with others is critical to your mental health. In fact, it is hard-wired into our DNA to crave and seek out connection. Without it, we’re more likely to experience loneliness, depression, anxiety, and increased stress. One study even suggests that a lack of quality relationships leads to a 50 per cent increase in premature death.

We fulfill our need for social connection through relationships with friends, family, co-workers, and other circles of support such as our chosen family.   

The Chosen Family

A chosen family is the collection of people in your life that have the same love and mutual support as a traditional family. The concept of ‘the chosen family’ was born out of the need for LGBTQ+ youth to find support systems after facing discrimination from their traditional families from coming out. In Canada, youth who come out to their families and face discrimination are 14 times more likely to be at risk for death by suicide and to engage with illegal substances.  

While the concept of a chosen family was created for a specific purpose, it can be adapted to help anyone in need of social connection, especially during the holidays. If you are unable to be with your biological family this holiday season due to necessity or choice, it does not mean you are without family. Your family can also include the people you choose.  

Connecting During a COVID Holiday Season

Feelings of isolation can worsen during the holidays. Whether biological or chosen, all families are facing restrictions this year and not being able to see loved ones in person can make your mental health struggles extra challenging. So, how can we make this holiday season easier on our mental health while still respecting Covid restrictions?

Here are some ideas:

  • Meet outside (maintaining distance) for hot beverages, snow activities, carolling, and campfires. You might consider the latest trend and purchase an electric blanket for outdoor visits!
  • Watch holiday movies together on your platform of choice using the free Teleparty extension.
  • Play virtual games with your chosen family, such as the super popular Jackbox Games
  • Check out other familiar games that can be played online such as Trivia or Scattegories
  • Hold a virtual Secret Santa and have your gift delivered to your giftee’s address; then, meet on Zoom to read clues and open presents.
  • Host a holiday meal by hiring a local caterer to deliver each attendee’s meal to their house (this is a great idea for work teams who are working from home!).
  • Embrace video calling through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
  • Go old school – call up a friend or family member and have a chat by phone.

If there are people in your circles of support who are suffering from loneliness and lack of connection, make an effort to include them in your distanced holiday festivities. We all need a little more support this time of year and reaching out can be mutually beneficial. 

It’s the little things

It’s common for the holidays to trigger feelings of loneliness which can have an impact on our mental health, and this year brings extra challenges. Remember that our need for connection can be fuelled in many ways and that even if the hugs are virtual this year there is real cause for celebration as we move together into the new year!