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Holiday stress may be ‘amplified’ by coronavirus. Experts urge mindfulness and planning

Click to play video 'Celebrating from home amid the pandemic' Celebrating from home amid the pandemic
WATCH: Celebrating from home amid the pandemic – May 13, 2020

The holiday season can be stressful enough as it is. It doesn’t help that the world is still in the grips of a viral pandemic.

But that’s why Canadians need to pay special attention to their mental health this season, according to Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam.

“Feelings of stress are common during the holidays and I understand that these emotions may be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a statement on Sunday.

“I encourage you to take care of your mental health and wellness, including reaching out to a supportive friend or family member to talk about how you are feeling and to seek out available resources.”

Read more: Coronavirus Christmas: Canadians should celebrate outdoors, virtually, experts say

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Before the winter crept up, experts had long warned about the potential impacts of darker, colder days stuck inside, likely without the usual socialization many are accustomed to.

Tam and public health experts alike have urged Canadians to adhere to public health guidelines this holiday season and avoid all non-essential travel to help curb rising cases of the novel coronavirus.

She emphasized Sunday the importance of upkeeping these measures but acknowledged that it’s not an easy thing.

With COVID-19 cases resurging across much of the country and infection rates high across all age groups, Tam said now is the time to “stay grounded and not lose our footing.”

“The safest way to celebrate the holidays is with members of your immediate household and to avoid non-essential travel,” she reiterated.

For some, that might mean a smaller holiday season than usual. For others, it might also mean a lonelier one, which experts say is a “real concern.”

To combat the stress and beat the potential for seasonal boredom, experts agree planning ahead is key.

Click to play video 'How to manage COVID Christmas blues' How to manage COVID Christmas blues
How to manage COVID Christmas blues – Dec 1, 2020

Beat the boredom

When it comes to the holidays, James Danckert, a cognitive neuroscience professor with the University of Waterloo, said people might treat being unable to go home as a stressful loss, which could lead to an uptick in boredom.

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“You’re focusing on how that feels, which is painful, uncomfortable, unpleasant,” he said. However, there are several ways to combat this.

A big part of overcoming boredom is choosing to make the best out of a bad situation, he said.

“Choose some actions, behaviours, some things to do over the holiday season that you wouldn’t normally do and then focus on that as a positive,” Danckert said.

Read more: ‘Normal Christmas’ off the table, Trudeau says amid coronavirus spike

According to Danckert, boredom occurs in situations where people feel constrained, “either where we have to do things we’d rather not or we’re prevented from doing things that we would like to do.”

“When we’re bored, we want something meaningful to do, something purposeful to do, but we don’t want anything that’s currently in front of us,” he said, adding that they’re typically accompanied by feelings of restlessness or loneliness.

Danckert said remaining calm, taking a deep breath and doing some reflection is often the key to pulling oneself away from those negative feelings.

He advised people to ask themselves, “why is this boring?” And work to reframe the situation to make it less boring.

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