How to Safely Enjoy the Holidays During COVID-19

Updated December 08, 2020
A holiday table of food

Duke Health’s monthly series on health and wellness addressed how to safely enjoy the holidays, even if it means being a little creative and setting some boundaries. Here’s how you can take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Don’t Let Your Guard or Your Mask Down

It' remains important for everyone to continue the safe practices recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, stressed Duke University Hospital President Thomas Owens, MD. They are:

  • Wear a mask at all times when not actively eating or drinking.
  • Maintain physical distance from others as much as possible.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, especially before and after touching your mask and eating or drinking.
  • Clean shared, high-touch surfaces often.

Know Your Risk Before Social Gatherings

At this time of year, people want to know how they can gather safely with family and friends. Becky Smith, MD, a Duke infectious disease specialist, recommends using these factors – time, space, people, place – to assess your risk before you put yourself in any situation.

Time: the risk of transmission increases the longer you’re around others.

Space: being in close proximity to other people leads to a greater chance of becoming infected.

People: your risk of catching COVID-19 increases when you are with more people.

Place: indoor gatherings pose a higher risk than outdoor events.

"Ultimately," she said, “these are very personal decisions,” and no situation is without risk. “Remember that eating is the riskiest time. If you can design your participation with safe behaviors in mind, you can create a low-risk situation.”

Holiday Meals Are About Moderation

Yes, it’s hard, but your best approach is to balance the overabundance of holiday food with healthy choices and physical activity. “Try not to completely throw your diet off for the day, but don’t completely deny yourself either,” said Karen Bean, RD, LDN, a licensed dietitian. “If your grandmother makes a wonderful apple pie, have a taste but choose other healthy foods" as part of your meal. Balance your food intake with physical activity, like taking a walk outside. “Maintain, don’t gain. All foods can fit in moderation. Try to hold yourself accountable.”

Stress Is Common

Holidays are happy times for some but can bring about feelings of stress and anxiety for others. Family separations caused by the pandemic are making the situation worse. To cope, McLean Pollock, Ph.D., MSW, LCSW, a licensed social worker, suggests getting "as much daylight as you can. Move around outside or sit by a window when you’re indoors. Practice mindfulness techniques – even simple deep breathing can help relieve stress.” Dr. Pollock said it will also help to spend time with people you can safely be around in person, or with a phone call. “Emotional connection with others can really help us during this time.”