23 December 2020
Maureen Brennan will spend Christmas with her daughter at their home in Nashua, New Hampshire, after refusing invitations from relatives to celebrate with them.
Michael Smith will observe the holidays alone in Elko, Nevada, to avoid possible coronavirus infection before he can get vaccinated.
Brennan and Smith do not feel very celebratory, or festive, this holiday season. And, they are not alone in that outlook says a new study from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Researchers questioned 1,117 American adults across the country between December 3 and December 7. Just 22 percent said they feel very or extremely festive this year. That is down from 49 percent one year ago.
The 69-year-old Smith said he usually spends Christmas alone, but the pandemic has been especially difficult. He cannot go to local coffee shops and visit with friends and neighbors as he usually does. His usual January vacation on the Caribbean Sea was cancelled because of coronavirus.
So, Smith has been staying home mostly, fearing what could happen if he caught the virus. Five years ago, he spent a month in a hospital under treatment for the lung disease pneumonia.
"I'm stressed that I can't just get in my car and go someplace," said Smith.
Karestan Koenen is a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"Holidays are always a stressful time, but now people are feeling really, really worn down because this has been going on for so long," she said. She noted that some are also suffering severe financial difficulties because of the health crisis.
COVID-19 has killed more than 319,000 people in the U.S. The disease spread has pushed health care systems to the edge of collapse, thrown millions of Americans out of work and, research shows, damaged mental health across the population.
About 40 percent of Americans are still intensely worried that they or a family member will be infected. About 75 percent say they are at least somewhat concerned about the possibility. The coronavirus vaccine progress has brought some hopefulness, but the study found that only half of Americans are ready to get vaccinated immediately. The other half said they were unsure about or uninterested in the treatment. The study was carried out before the first U.S. approval of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Adults under 30 are more likely than those older to say they feel very sad or lonely — and more feel these emotions this year than they did last year.
Koenen said this is a time when young adults normally would be starting their independent lives. But now, school completion ceremonies may have been canceled. Adult children may have to live with their families, and it could be difficult to find a job because of the slowed economy.
Koenen said it is especially hard for people who live alone.
Brennan, a retired health care worker, said she is lucky to have the company of her adult child. The 76-year-old had not worried much about the virus, she said, until the number of infections and deaths began climbing in recent weeks. She and her daughter have been careful. They wear masks and go to the same stores to decrease their risk of catching the virus.
Both Brennan, whose husband died five years ago, and Smith said they have found satisfaction in helping others, rather than mourn what they cannot do.
"It is important to take care of those who absolutely need it and those who need only on a temporary basis," said Brennan, who has donated to Nashua's food aid providers and children's home.
Smith said he helped several families, including a server at a coffee shop he likes. They were struggling because of lost wages during the crisis. In January, he will donate to the local food bank.
Still, just 37 percent of Americans say they feel especially generous, or giving, compared with 52 percent last year.
Thinking about thankfulness, or gratitude, can help reduce fear and worry, as can helping others, Koenen said. "I think people feel better if they can do something," she said.
Brennan keeps up with what is happening in her community and stays in contact with friends although they cannot visit.
Smith is feeling more hopeful now that coronavirus vaccines have been approved.
"I look forward to (the time) when most of us will have had the vaccination," he said. "Then we should be coming back to life."
I'm Bryan Lynn. And I'm Caty Weaver.
The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
stressed –adj. feeling worried or anxious
psychiatric –adj. related to medicine that deals with mental or emotional disorders
epidemiology –n. the study of infectious diseases
mask –n. a covering for the face, especially on worn to prevent the spread of disease
absolutely –adv. completely, showing agreement