It’s no secret that the holidays heighten stress levels, especially if you’re a small business owner.

Even before the pandemic, 54% of entrepreneurs were stressed during the holidays, with the added financial expense and increased stressors, including running a business, employee needs and personal commitments.

COVID-19 certainly threw a new dimension of challenges into the mix as business owners aimed to remain profitable, while worrying about their employees catching or sharing the virus or having to shift their focus from “thriving” to “surviving.” Add to this the lingering tensions from a tumultuous election season and the push for racial justice—not to mention the financial impact of the pandemic, which left millions unemployed —the 2020 holiday season amounts to a pressure cooker of emotion for some individuals.

While there is no true way to completed avoid the holiday stress when you’re a business owner, there are some ways to lessen the stress you’re feeling so you’re able to make the most of the holiday season and protect your mental health. Here are five things to keep in mind.

No. 1: Be aware of the holiday triggers that affect your mental health.

“Branded holidays”, such as Christmas, come with specific smells, colors and traditions that can be triggers for those with mental health issues. It’s one reason why we see a spike in mental health challenges during the holidays, from substance abuse relapses to suicides to depression. During the pandemic, mental health professionals expect that the normal holiday triggers will go into overdrive for some people—and mental health numbers could skyrocket.

That’s why it’s important to recognize and acknowledge these triggers and the impact they have on your emotional state. If your go-to approaches for stress relief, such as exercise, taking time out to do something you love and getting extra sleep, do not ease your mental strain, make sure you know where you can receive mental healthcare in your community, whether in person or via telehealth. Your employer assistance program, insurance company or local health department can provide guidance on the resources available and how to make an appointment.

No. 2: Understand the ways in which we experience grief are different this year.

The holidays stir up feelings of grief for many people, especially for those mourning the loss of loved ones. However, in 2020, we have much more to grieve about, including the loss of normalcy. Families who may have helped loved ones move into assisted living prior to the pandemic and are now unable to visit them in person may be wondering, “Did we make the right decision?” Those who are geographically separated from their families may feel isolated on a number of levels this holiday season.

Despite these challenges, there are ways to empower people to express their grief. More and more, we’re seeing the use of technology enable families to connect with those in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and hospice. Letter writing also is rising in popularity during the pandemic as a meaningful way to connect. Leveraging social media platforms or connecting through a video conference service can also help people channel their grief in a productive manner.

Remember to reach out to people who are struggling, too. Many people will not proactively reach out if they are having troubles, but engaging in a phone call or video call can help their mental health.

No. 3: Set boundaries.

Family dynamics often play a role in determining who suffers from the “holiday blues”. You must empower yourself to make individual, informed, healthy decisions based on where you live, what you are most comfortable with and the impact these decisions will have on your family. For example, if there are differences in opinion regarding whether a family get-together is appropriate, it’s important to first acknowledge these decisions and then set boundaries around how you will engage with family members this season. For example, do you feel comfortable with a gathering where windows are open, family groups are seated at individual tables and everyone wears a mask? Or would you prefer to celebrate solely with the family members you live with?

No. 4: Be open with children about changes to holiday plans.

This year will look different for a lot of families, especially for those facing reduced income or loss of employment due to the pandemic. Encourage your children to approach the holiday with resilience by conveying openness and a positive attitude. Talk with them in age-appropriate terms about the changes they might expect. Then, consider new traditions. Create a family recipe, pack up in the car to see holiday lights or start hosting a family game night. Look for easy ways to cut down on the expense of the holiday, such as by buying electronics second-hand. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to have a nice holiday season.

No. 5: Acknowledge your stress—and ask for help.

There is no single way to reduce stress or anxiety. Start by recognizing you are stressed. Then, let those closest to you know how you are feeling so they can become your support system. Try to identify what you need, and then ask family members or friends for assistance. For example, ask a spouse to do the laundry; partner with another family to drop the kids off at events; and consider using a meal service or ordering takeout so that you don’t have to cook each night.

Now is not the time to be a superhero. Best of all: Since everyone wants to help each other right now, all you have to do is ask. Remember, too, to give yourself some grace. Not everything has to be perfect. You could leave the laundry to be folded another day or put the dishes away tomorrow.

Be Good to Yourself This Holiday

During a holiday season unlike any other in recent memory, acknowledging the stress and anxiety you may be feeling paves the way for a healthy response. Do something to lift the weight of what you’re feeling, such as by practicing self-care, including prioritizing exercise and sleep, minimizing your engagement on social media channels, and not overindulging in sugar or alcohol. If you are still struggling, seek out a mental health professional, either in person or via telehealth. Taking care of your own health will make the holidays merrier for everyone else, too.

Candice Tate, MD, MBA, is a board-certified psychiatrist and medical director for Magellan Healthcare.

Holidays stock image by Katerina Morozova/Shutterstock