Expert advice on caring for your mental health this COVID Christmas

Following California's stay-at-home orders means for the first time, many will be spending the holidays alone this year.

Mental health professionals around the Bay Area are noticing an uptick in depression and anxiety beyond what they'd typically see around the holidays, due to isolation and stress brought on by the pandemic.

Ari Abramson in San Francisco hasn't seen his family in New York since January.

"I've never let a full calendar year pass without seeing my family, so this is the longest time," Abramson said.

He cancelled his trip to see them over Thanksgiving when COVID-19 cases began to resurge, and will be alone this Christmas, when he'd traditionally be eating Chinese food and going to a movie with his family.

"I feel like the hardest part is not being able to hug someone, being able to say, 'I missed you, it's so good to see you," he said.

Oakland based psychotherapist and adjunct professor at Golden Gate University and Ohlone College, Kini Chang, is seeing more patients enter therapy for the first time.

"Folks are definitely feeling very overwhelmed, which is causing definitely an increase in anxiety, depressoin, but also this longing for closeness," Chang said.

She suggests keeping holiday traditions going over Zoom or Facetime, to create a sense of ritual even when apart.

Since food plays such a key role in the holiday festivities, try cooking a family recipe and bringing meals to neighbors or friends, Chang suggests.

Even breathing apps can relieve some of the stress, or broadcast ocean sounds or a fireplace from your television or computer.

"That sounds so simple, right? That sounds like what difference would that make, that's just on in the background? All those little things actually make quite a difference," Chang said.

Ari says riding his bicycle and going for walks are energizing, but family is what he's missing most right now.

I think I've found solace in connecting with folks virtually," Abramson said. "Even getting my grandma on Facetime, which has been years in the making."