As COVID-19 crashes into the holiday season, some may find it difficult to feel festive. According to the American Heart Association, one in three Americans report being worried or depressed, and more than half of U.S. adults say that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental well-being due to worry and stress. 

The pandemic has resulted in many changes to get-togethers and traditions, but the bonds of friendship and family are key to both emotional and physical health. Picking up the phone for a quick call or chat can go a long way to maintaining your well-being. 

Research indicates that having social connections can make a person happier. The need to be around others is hard-wired into our brains. We crave connection like we hunger for food and thirst for water. Loneliness and poor relationships are as much a mortality risk factor as smoking. 

“Loneliness makes it much harder for us to cope with stress and leads to many health issues," says Lisa Sheppard, behavioral health program director with Saline Memorial Hospital. "The holiday season can worsen feelings of loneliness because we are often reminded of loved ones we have lost. It is essential to promote social connections because feelings of loneliness can trigger depression and are known to increase the risk of heart disease, or even an early death. Connecting with friends and family offers a way to strengthen our mental health.”

During a year that has been riddled with quarantines, isolation and less travel, creating and maintaining social connections are more important than ever. If your seasonal shindig has had to change this year, the American Heart Association has five tips to host a virtual holiday party, making the planning process much easier.

“Many people have traditions during the holiday season that focus on social gatherings," Sheppard says. "These social connections, even if they are not in-person, still create joy when they are processed in our mind and body.”

Another thing to consider for the new year is to start by focusing inward. Creating a gratitude practice can not only boost social bonds, but also decrease feelings of loneliness. Need help getting started? The AHA put together a 21 days of gratitude challenge that can set you on a path of positivity. 

For more tips on how to band together during this time to keep your mind and body fit, visit the AHA website.

 

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