If you need immediate help, please call 911 or the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1

Reducing Suicide Risk by Successfully Coping with Holiday and Pandemic Stress

The holidays can be a wonderful time to celebrate with family and friends.  They can also be a time of increased stress.  The COVID-19 pandemic has added further stressors to our lives, like social distancing and financial concerns, which may lead to increased suicide risk. Fortunately, there are many ways to protect yourself against holiday and pandemic stress and many resources for when you need support.

Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress

The following tips may help you successfully manage stress as the holidays approach:

  • Take time for relaxing activities.  We often spend a lot of time focused on others during the holidays and our own equilibrium can suffer as a result.  To maintain your calm, cool, collected state of mind, take time to engage in activities you find relaxing.  Lose yourself n a hobby, practice meditation, write in a gratitude journal [PDF 1.07MB], and engage in one of the healthiest forms of relaxation – exercise!
  • Briefly change your surroundings.  Holiday gatherings can be stressful.  Changing your surroundings – even briefly – can refresh your mind and clear out negative emotions.  Consider stepping outside for a breath of fresh air to walk or play with a pet, or to make a holiday phone call to a friend.
  • Know your limits and respect them.  Some people celebrate holidays with alcohol, which can be fun and relaxing.  However, when people drink too much alcohol, negative outcomes can occur.  Engage in responsible drinking by knowing and sticking to limits and enlisting a friend to help you know when to say when.

Tips for Coping with Pandemic Stress

As the pandemic continues, the following tips may help you cope:

  • Make an effort to stay connected to important people in your life.  Social distancing and travel restrictions can increase feelings of loneliness.  Luckily, we have many options for connecting to others.  You can reach out through video calls, texts, online chats, emails, and phone calls.  Get in the habit of scheduling regular contacts with important people in your life – it’s very rewarding! Also, remember that your social circle can include not only friends, family members, and coworkers, but also religious or spiritual advisors, neighbors, and casual acquaintances. 
  • Maintain a positive routine.  The pandemic may lead to you to become bored or frustrated more often because there is less to do outside the home.  To keep boredom and frustration in check, maintain a daily routine that includes good sleep hygiene and healthy eating.  Make your routine stronger by finding ways to laugh every day, to engage in interesting activities every week, and to help others on a regular basis.

Stay Safe

In order to protect yourself against suicide [PDF 1.25MB] no matter the season or stress level, be sure to always store your firearms unloaded and in a locked cabinet or gun safe.  Try to store ammunition in a different location than your firearms. As an extra layer of protection during difficult times, consider giving the key to your locked cabinet or gun safe to a trusted friend or neighbor.

Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out for help or support when your efforts to reduce stress are not as successful as you need them to be.

What Line Leaders Can Do

Line leaders are an important influence when it comes to encouraging psychological fitness. They can create a positive environment within their command that promotes trust and encourages seeking care. For tips on establishing a supportive unit culture, check out the Real Warriors Campaign’s “5 Ways Military Leaders Can Address Stigma” fact sheet [PDF 855KB].

Military leadership plays a vital role in unit performance and mission success. If you notice a service member having a hard time, reach out and consider connecting them with care options. Try these tips for starting a conversation [PDF 2.60MB] when you have a concern about a fellow service member.  By promoting psychological fitness in their units, line leaders help strengthen the force as a whole.

For immediate help, especially when feeling suicidal, call:

Additional Resources

Sources

Defense Suicide Prevention Office. Small Steps Save Lives. [PDF 1.24MB] Retrieved on November 25, 2020 from: https://www.dspo.mil/Portals/113/Documents/Small%20Steps%20Save%20Lives.pdf

Oswell, M. (2018, December 13) Managing your holiday stress.  https://health.mil/News/Articles/2018/12/13/Managing-your-holiday-stress

Real Warriors Campaign. How to Develop Healthy Sleep Habits. Retrieved on November 25, 2020 from: https://www.realwarriors.net/sleep/healthy-habits

Real Warriors Campaign. Did you know that journaling may improve your psychological health and your immune function?  [PDF 1.07MB] Retrieved on November 25, 2020 from: https://www.realwarriors.net/sites/default/files/campaignmedia/bookmark_journaling.pdf

Reger, M. A., Stanley, I. H., & Joiner, T. E. (2020).  Suicide Mortality and Coronavirus Disease 2019- A Perfect Storm? JAMA Psychiatry, April 10. 

Thompson, L. (2020, April 14) Manage pandemic stress with things you love, even video games and binge watching shows. https://www.jbsa.mil/News/News/Article/2149202/manage-pandemic-stress-with-things-you-love-even-video-games-and-binge-watching/ 

United States Department of Defense (DOD). Own Your Limits. Retrieved on November 25, 2020 from: https://www.ownyourlimits.org/

Uniform Services University, Human Performance Resources by CHAMP. (2017, February 22). Exercise boosts mental health.

Uniform Services University, Human Performance Resources by CHAMP. (2020, November 16). What is social fitness? The basics of relationship health for Military Service Members.