Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

MUSKOKA — It’s going to be a “pandemic Christmas” no doubt.

But how you deal with it and cope is up to you and how you will best survive until a vaccine soon hopefully arrives, says mental health experts.

Dr. Christine Purdon, a University of Waterloo clinical psychologist, agrees wholeheartedly and advises Canadians “be creative” and still participate and act “in a fun way.”

The Gravenhurst native was on the CBC the other day dispensing some sound advice for the season.

It’s a field of study she is an expert on.

According to her UofW profile: “I am interested in the persistence of anxiety and its cognitive manifestations, such as obsessions, worry, rumination, doubt, and behavioural manifestations, such as compulsions and escape/avoidance behaviours.”

Purdon, a frequent CBC guest and mental health expert, told host Natasha Fatah that “it’s not the bells and whistles” that will get you through the holidays, but “it’s the inside spirit.”

She said it’s important to remember other generations have had to go through if you think of Canadians in World War II.

“And we can do it again.”

“Christmas is about the inside spirit, it’s not necessarily about the bells and whistles and decorations.

“And we can still do it despite that,” said the daughter of former Muskoka Beechgrove Public School principal John Purdon who lives in Bracebridge.

She is married to Charles Stuart, also formerly of Gravenhurst, who is a freelance editor. They live in Waterloo Region and own Greavette Island off the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst.

Purdon said “I think people can be as creative as they want to be. And make a pandemic Christmas be kind of a ‘how are we going to do this in a fun way?’

“Whatever works for you to connect with other people,” in small ways like a Zoom dinner.

“You don’t want your Christmas to be associated with the transmission of a virus that could be deadly to members of your family.”

Her wise words are echoed by Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions, which is sharing expert tips this week to support families through this time.

Especially children who may find it mentally tough to balance a time of joy with people still suffering.

“We know that this has been a challenging year and it has taken a toll on the mental health of many families, children and youth,” says Melanie McLearon, their community communications director. “Given the ongoing pandemic, the holidays will not be the same this year for many of us.

“That is why as the local child and youth mental health provider in Muskoka, Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions is sharing expert tips and recommendations from child and youth mental health professionals to help families in our community put their mental wellness first and get ready for the holidays.”

McLearon offers these seven tips to put your family’s mental wellness first and get ready for the holidays:

  1. Prioritize mental health in the holidays: Even in a typical year, the holidays can be an especially challenging time of year for many families. When you prioritize your or your child’s mental wellness, you can focus on what works for your family. As a parent, consider the things that feel realistic for you to do and then offer those choices to kids/youth to pick from.
  2. Plan early: Plan early to start having conversations with children about what the holidays may look like so that they understand things will be different this year and they know what to expect.
  3. Focus on what’s in your control: This is a good time to focus on the things that are in your control. When it comes to traditions of the holiday season, consider how you can incorporate the traditions, or at least parts of those traditions, that are most important to your family.
  4. Managing disappointment: For a lot of us, we are going to need to accept that the holidays just won’t be what they usually are. That will be disappointing for a lot of us. It’s important to acknowledge that disappointment, especially for children.
  5. Supporting children through grief: The holidays can be especially hard for families who are grieving. You might work together to come up with ideas for memorializing your loved one over the holiday. Remember that it’s okay for you child/youth to feel upset as there have been a lot of different types of loss this year.
  6. Take care of you: The holidays can be a stressful and anxious time for parents, too. Consider planning a day where the family could play a game or watch a movie together. But don’t forget to have some scheduled time where kids can play games and parents can take some time out as well.
  7. Don’t underestimate your family’s resilience: Resilience is about bouncing back from challenges, rather than not having any challenges at all. Look back on your year. Notice what works for your family – and remember that this will look different for each family.

If you think your child may need mental health support, reach out for help by calling 705-645-4426 ext.6270. Someone is available to receive your call Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:30pm. If you or someone you know is experiencing a child and youth mental health crisis, for emergencies please call our crisis line at 1-844-287-9072 or contact police.

About Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions (SMFC):

SMFC is the local Child and Youth Mental Health provider in the District of Muskoka and the Children’s Aid Society in Muskoka and the County of Simcoe. The independent non-profit agency provides culturally appropriate, efficient and effective services in the areas of child protection and children’s mental health. SMFC works collaboratively to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children, youth and families. Services are provided out of locations throughout regions of Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka – the head office of Barrie, Ontario and offices in Bracebridge, Collingwood, Huntsville, Midland, and Orillia.

Dr. Christine Purdon, a clinical psychologist at UofW, suggests a Zoom dinner this Christmas as a way to stay home, stay safe and stay connected.

Canadians have experienced and survived similar trials and tribulations in war, says Dr. Christine Purdon, who grew up in Gravenhurst and still has an island cottage in town with her husband Charles Stuart.

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