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Holiday mental health: Find common ground with family and friends when dealing with COVID-19 grief and anxiety

Give yourselves permission to celebrate lost loved ones, share emotions, and find joy

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Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays may deliver a range of emotions for family members. In the wake of COVID-19, this holiday season also may bring a struggle between returning to normalcy, and a celebration of loved ones lost to the virus, as discussed in Thursday’s AdventHealth News Briefing.

Dr. Luis Allen, psychiatrist and medical director for the Center for Behavioral Health at AdventHealth Orlando, and Chaplain Juleun Johnsondirector of ministry and mission at AdventHealth, offered insights and advice on how to cope with life changes in the coming days and weeks.

“The rush back to normalcy is not as important as the rush back to wellness,” said Johnson. “Physical wellness, spiritual wellness, mental wellness are all important parts of the process. This holiday season offers catharsis.”

Allen suggested using holiday gatherings as a chance to reach common ground with family members and friends who may have experienced anxiety, grief and social tension during the global pandemic.

“It’s a happy time of year, but it is very important to have that memory and celebration of loved ones we have lost,” Allen said. “Despite the grief of loss, you are allowed to have joy.”

Allen said early intervention is important when trying to reach people who are depressed or experiencing anxiety surrounding the holidays, particularly in children.

“We are in dire need of mental health access for children and young adults,” he said. “People need a comforting space to talk about their feelings and to be open to talking about them.”

Johnson, who ministers to patients and families at multiple AdventHealth hospital locations in Central Florida, has witnessed a coarsening of emotions and attitudes that provides opportunity for change through spiritual engagement.

“We have an opportunity to repair broken relationships and reset them during the holidays,” Johnson said. “Not everything is black and white. By embracing the gray through conversations with people who have differing views, we can break down barriers and grow closer.”

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