Top 6 self care tips to help cope with an unusual holiday season

·5 min read

The holidays are here, along with promises of vaccines in the North as early as the first week of January.

But that doesn't mean public health restrictions are going away any time soon. Many people's plans for the holidays have been kiboshed.

And while the case counts in the territories aren't nearly as high compared to most other regions across the country, the restrictions mean more alone time for some and difficult decisions for those no longer able to see their families or friends.

Andrea Brown, territorial manager for mental health and addictions services with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, says since the pandemic hit in March, waves of stress and emotion rolled in with it, as opposed to one "massive peak of stress.

"We have been incredibly fortunate where we haven't had high numbers, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we aren't experiencing the same levels of stress," Brown said.

"Rather, our remoteness combined with our travel limitations and our isolation protocols, it makes it so much more nuanced and it leaves us feeling very vulnerable during what can typically be a pretty ... vulnerable or difficult time of the year."

Jodi Kapicki, a registered psychologist in Yellowknife, says it's about looking for the good.

"Obviously, the pandemic is not a positive. Being alone isn't necessarily a positive," Kapicki said.

But there is a way through it, both experts say.

Here are the top six strategies Brown and Kapicki suggest to help take care of your mental health over the holidays.

Be mindful

"Pay close attention to your body and mind around this time," Brown said.

"Be mindful of the feelings and thoughts that you might have, recognizing that it's OK to adjust expectations and plans to protect yourself, your family and your community."

Brown says to watch how you speak to yourself, and to avoid feeling burdened by things you should or shouldn't do over the holidays.

"It's OK to take a tentative step to allow some flexibility and to really speak kindly to yourself," Brown said. "We've talked a lot about how being at home and in isolation has led to increased eating, some lethargy, difficulty finding fitness [routines]."

Mindfulness can also include finding a balance between indulgence in holiday treats from alcoholic beverages and sugary foods but also setting some realistic expectations of when to stop or to put more veggies on your plate, Brown said.

Submitted by Melaw Nakehk'o
Submitted by Melaw Nakehk'o

Get creative

Brown says when you might be stewing or focusing on more negative emotions, try distracting yourself and redirect those emotions to something more creative, like doing something that you've always wanted to do.

"Bead, paint, write, design, create," Brown said.

"I've seen so many amazing artists show some beautiful work, and even budding artists who weren't before, because they're redirecting their energy."

Jamie Stevenson Photography
Jamie Stevenson Photography

Go outside

"Going outside for walks and watching the northern lights is also something that's been, it seems, really simple, but also very refreshing and also allows for a different kind of perspective when your mood might be low," Brown said.

She added people should try to go out on the land as much as they can, too.

If you're staying home, Kapicki says it's important to get outside and take a walk or run at least once a day, even when it's cold out.

"Especially because it's so dark right now, just trying to get outside and see some of the daylight is important," Kapicki said.

Find the positives

One of the things Kapicki speaks to her clients about is being intentional in their daily life.

That means setting goals for yourself, with the focus not necessarily on accomplishing them but being the person you want to be, Kapicki said.

"Given our restrictions right now and sometimes being alone ... we can sink into the negativity about that," Kapicki said.

That's why it's important to look for positives, even small ones, "whether it's noticing how pretty the trees are with all the hoarfrost on them, [or] being able to get outside," Kapicki said.

It's also important to recognize the ability to connect with others virtually or over the phone, she said.

"I mean, if this had happened 10 years ago, we wouldn't have had that ability. So, it's noticing those kinds of positives," Kapicki said.

Decide what's best for you, responsibly

Officials in all three territories have been urging residents to avoid non-essential travel to help keep everyone safe.

Kapicki says those are important guidelines but she added if not seeing family is having a severe impact on you, it could be essential to make a "smart plan" to travel to see them.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

"I think as human beings, we have to decide for ourselves what essential travel means. You need to know yourself if you haven't seen family and [if] that is really bothering you," she said.

But that means people should keep in mind that it means a sacrifice, she added, like isolating for two weeks when you get back and following territorial public health measures.

Know this isn't forever

"Next [Christmas], hopefully everything will be better," Kapicki said.

"We'll chalk it up to this is a unique year. And as human beings, we have to make sacrifices for each other and the sacrifice this year is staying put, so that we can make sure everybody is healthy."

There are mental health resources available to those in need from The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, which has set up phone sessions with their traditional counsellors and elders for those that would like support. Resources can also be found on the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority website.