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Newsletter: January 2021

Caring For Your Family’s Mental Health This Winter

A friend recently posted a photo on social media, showing various members of her family basking in the glow of individual sun lamps. “Staying ahead of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder),” she commented.

Judging from the many responses she got, plenty of people are struggling with their emotions right now. Moods often take a dive in winter — after all, in many places, it’s dark and cold, and on top of a scaled-back holiday season, the beginning of the New Year just feels…gloomy. January 2021 may pose more mental health risks for the whole family than usual.

As nice as it feels to say goodbye to 2020, the New Year won’t magically put an end to the stresses most families have endured since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Even with the promise of effective vaccines on the horizon, the start of 2021 is going to be a test of everyone’s patience and endurance. The longer we need to stay vigilant and practice social distancing, the more weary we’re bound to feel.

So should you grab up some therapeutic lamps for the whole family? Buy a bunch of self-help books? Get a therapist, if you don’t already have one, on speed dial? If those things seem helpful to you, give them a try. But here are some additional tips you can put into practice to help you stay on top of family mental health in the days ahead:

  • Follow this advice from our friends at the MGH Clay Center. This comprehensive post on ways parents and kids can work together to stay on top of mental health during the unique challenges of the pandemic is a must-read. The guide covers everything from self-care tips to mental health resources for more serious situations, and we’re sure families will be bookmarking and referring to it all winter long.
  • Insist on dinner. Many families tell us they’ve stopped bothering with regular family dinners because there’s already so much “forced togetherness” due to the pandemic. That’s an understandable perspective, but giving up on shared meals might actually make matters worse for family mental health. In more typical times, family dinner provides parents with a “temperature check” where they can regularly get a sense of how each family member is doing emotionally. During the pandemic, that “temperature check” is still important, but in a different way. Sitting down for a routine meal together, setting aside all the challenges of the day, can be one way to sort out just how stressed each person is feeling — and whether that stress can be lowered through a warm mealtime interaction, or may need closer attention. For these reasons and more, the dinner table is a reliable place to keep connection between parents and kids, and close family bonds are protective of our mental health.
  • But lower the bar. There’s no point in sticking to a family dinner routine if it’s overwhelming. We’ve always said that the “good enough” dinner is good enough, and this winter, we really, REALLY mean it. Sandwiches, scrambled eggs, canned soup, or a plate of refrigerator odds-and-ends can become a great family dinner. Give yourself permission to do less, and if you have willing helpers in the house, give them permission to do more.

Hang in there, families — we’ll all get through this together.

Family of the Month

Compassion and connectedness are the two words that come to mind when we think of how we’d like to handle family dinners this month. In this post, we round up some of the best examples of dinner-related connection and compassion we’ve heard from real families.

Real Family Dinner Projects: Top Family Tips for Connection and Compassion


While we’re all for keeping expectations low and menus easy this winter, it’s also worth mentioning that good nutrition plays its own role in keeping everyone healthy — physically and emotionally. Our friend Dr. Uma Naidoo is an expert in the brain-nutrition connection. Try her mood-boosting salmon recipe!

Salmon with Zucchini and Macadamia Pesto


Give everyone’s spirits a lift with a family dance party — with homemade dessert built in!

Dance Party Ice Cream


Use these conversation starters to check in on how everyone’s feeling, and make sure they know how to take care of themselves during challenging times.