December 1, 2020

A Very COVID Christmas

Preparing for the holidays.

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

Q: The upcoming holiday season is already causing stress. My husband’s mother died, and my husband lost his job because of COVID-19. He has become withdrawn, has trouble sleeping, and is becoming irritable. We feel overwhelmed by turmoil and uncertainty and know that it’s affecting our 5- and 7-year-old kids.1 What can we do to face the holidays without losing our sanity?


A: Your husband’s symptoms—irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and withdrawal—may mean that he would benefit from urgent psychological intervention.2

Unfortunately, your situation is all too common. Mental stress has reached a record high worldwide, and itself is a pandemic of grave proportions. This is of serious concern for all ages, but especially for 18- to 24-year-olds. Even before COVID-19 the holiday season presented two faces in Western countries: the “most wonderful time of the year” for some, and one filled with loneliness, laments, anxiety, and sadness for others. The holidays may carry high expectations, and with high expectations can come grave disappointments. This can be compounded by family issues. In your husband’s case, economic burdens, grief from his loved one’s passing, and the ever-present threat of COVID-19 have each amplified his stress and anxiety beyond each one’s individual impact on your family’s mental well-being.

While we’re not in a position to diagnose or treat, we offer here some practical ideas that may help. But professional help and assistance should be sought. Connect with the National Council for Behavioral Health (www.thenationalcouncil.org/) to find suitable help close to your home. Also, the website www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists can assist you with finding a professional counselor or support group where you live. The website youthaliveportal.org/mentalhealth/en may also provide useful information for you and your family. Mental health concerns are of such importance that there’s now a new U.S. national crisis and suicide prevention line, 9-8-8, which works much like 9-1-1.

Here are some ideas that may help you make the holiday season memorable and meaningful despite the difficulties:

  • Pray; God has not abandoned you.
  • Control what you can.
  • Get appropriate, reliable advice and social support.
  • Manage expectations, especially with children.
  • Focus on Jesus, the reason for the season.
  • Prioritize health and well-being, self-care, and family care.
  • Stick to a budget within your means.
  • Do not use alcohol or harmful drugs.
  • Spend time doing pleasant things together as a family (reading, hiking, home-repair projects, helping neighbors, living room camping, in-home treasure hunts, stargazing, etc.).
  • Make a “gratitude list” every night (a whole-family activity).
  • Plan a telephone or digital-video “party.”

Remember, families change over time. Traditions and family rituals evolve as children grow and circumstances change. Choose a few traditions that are still doable despite the COVID-induced stresses, and look for ways to make new ones this year. Life is going to be different, and this holiday season will be like no other in the past.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . . and He shall direct your paths” (Prov. 3:5, 6, NKJV).3


  1. This is a composite question based on case histories and conversations with several individuals.
  2. See www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/warning-signs-of-mental-illness.
  3. Bible texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel
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