Experts: 2020 Holiday Season


Published: 2Dec2020

The McGill Media Relations Office suggests the following sources for your holiday stories:

Addictions and substance abuseChildren and screen timeExercise and staying active | Food and cooking | Giving back | Holiday shopping | Hospital visits and emergenciesIsolation and lonelinessNew Year's resolutions and goals | Traveling during the Holidays | Wellness and spirituality |

Addictions and substance abuse

Rachel Rabin, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry

"While the holiday season is a joyous occasion to some, December and January can bring stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue to others. Being mindful, acknowledging substance use triggers, staying connected to support networks, and reaching out for help are strategies that may help people cope with problematic substance use during these difficult times.

Rachel Rabin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and a researcher at the Douglas Research Centre. Her research program focuses on developing a better understanding of the neurocognitive and social cognitive dysfunction in individuals with substance use disorders in both psychiatric (e.g., schizophrenia) and non-psychiatric populations.

rachel.rabin [at] (English)

Children and screen time

Victoria Talwar, Full Professor and Chair, Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology

During the Holidays, when there will be more unstructured time the temptation to resort to screen time activities will increase for families with children. Limiting screen time is easier if parents plan and encourage other activities. This can include activities like playing games, baking, making a craft, or reading. It is important for the well-being of everyone, that families have quality time to interact with each other and to do things that are engaging and fun off-screen.”

Victoria Talwar is a Full Professor and the Chair of the Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Forensic Developmental Psychology. Her research interests include children’s verbal deception, children’s moral development, theory-of-mind understanding and behaviour; children’s expressive display rule knowledge and behaviour.

victoria.talwar [at] (English)

Exercise and staying active

Gordon Bloom, Full Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education

Many are experiencing a loss of motivation to exercise as sport programs and exercise facilities remain closed due to COVID-19. Although there are fewer choices in what we can do and where we can do it, we can overcome some of these barriers with creative thinking. For example, we can strengthen our body by focusing on flexibility or cardiovascular fitness training in our own homes. We can also do these workouts with friends, teammates or loved ones via online platforms, such as Skype or Zoom. Let’s challenge ourselves to overcome these barriers and continue to exercise and stay fit.

Gordon Bloom is a Full Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education. His research focuses on sport psychology, pedagogy, coaching knowledge and behaviours, team building, and psychology of athletic injuries such as concussions.

gordon.bloom [at] (English)

Steven Grover, Full Professor, Department of Medicine, Division of Internal Medicine

“During the social isolation surrounding the pandemic, there is increasing evidence of more stress, anxiety, depression, poor sleep quality, weight gain, and sedentary behaviour. Regular exercise has been consistently proven to be a highly effective therapy to both prevent and treat these health conditions. Accordingly, exercising daily is arguably among the most important treatments available to improve our physical and mental health during the pandemic, and all year long.”

Steven Grover is a Full Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Director of the Comprehensive Health Improvement Program. His research focuses on the importance of exercise, healthy eating, and other lifestyle interventions to improve health, as well as on digital, e-health interventions using web-based platforms.

steven.grover [at] (English, French)

Food and cooking

Nathalie Cooke, Full Professor, Department of English

Though the holiday season will look and feel a bit different to most due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this can also be a time to enjoy stay-at-home pleasures. In a time where people are seeking comfort and connection, turning to cooking and baking some of your favourite recipes may bring a feeling of happiness and nostalgia and hopefully create memorable moments with your loved ones.”

Nathalie Cooke is a Full Professor in the Department of English and the Associate Dean, Associate Dean, Rare & Special Collections, Osler, Art, and Archives, of the McGill Library. Her research focuses on the shaping of literary and culinary tastes and practices in Canada.

nathalie.cooke [at] (English)

Giving back

Eric Latimer, Full Professor, Department of Psychiatry

The holiday season calls on us to be especially generous to people in need. Year after year, we give to charities that serve people experiencing homelessness. Yet, the number of such people is only increasing, in part because rents are rising faster than incomes at the bottom of the wage ladder. It does not have to be that way. By funding specialized teams to help people regain permanent housing, together with more affordable housing and more targeted prevention programs, we could get on track to reducing and eventually eliminating homelessness, as Finland is well on the way to accomplishing.”

Eric Latimer is a Full Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Director of the Mental Health and Society Research Program at the Douglas Research Centre. A health economist, his research interests focus on community-based supports for people with severe mental illness, particularly their economic aspects.

eric.latimer [at] (English, French)

Daiva Nielsen, Assistant Professor, School of Human Nutrition

Experiences with food insecurity have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we approach the holiday season, it is important to remember that community support and resilience are more important than ever. Volunteer grocery shoppers in communities can play a crucial role in ensuring food access for community members who are unable to shop for groceries in stores. Consider helping out with a volunteer group in your community to ensure that daily life essentials and other needs can be met for the more vulnerable members of our communities.”

Daiva Nielsen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Human Nutrition. She is currently leading a study to compare household food procurement experiences across different regions in Quebec, including those more affected by COVID-19.

daiva.nielsen [at] (English)

Holiday shopping

Maxime Cohen, Associate Professor, Desautels Faculty of Management

The 2020 holiday shopping season is one for the books. Retailers will need to double their creative efforts to attract both local customers to their physical stores and international customers to their online channel. This year more than ever, data analytics can be leveraged to extend personalized offers that can be a win-win for both retailers and customers.”

Maxime Cohen is an Associate Professor of Retail Management and Operations Management at the Desautels Faculty of Management and the Co-Director of the McGill Retail Innovation Lab. His core expertise lies at the intersection of data science and operations management.

maxime.cohen [at] (English, French)

Anwar White, Faculty Lecturer, Desautels Faculty of Management

"Holiday shopping has been moving toward e-commerce more and more as the years go by – about 20% in 2019. Those numbers are expected to grow closer to a third. Just as retailers are having to transform and evolve the way they do business; customers are also changing their buying habits. You'll notice more participation with the pickup in store offering, in-store kiosks, and online buying from customers that had never done those things before.”

Anwar White is a Faculty Lecturer at the Desautels Faculty of Management. A veteran in the retail industry, he joined the Bensadoun School of Retail Management as the program director of the new Master of Management in Retailing in 2019.

anwar.white [at] (English)

Hospital visits and emergencies

Zachary Levine, Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine

For mild health issues people should consider whether there are other good options like local clinics before making their way to the emergency room. However, they should not hesitate to go to the ER if they are experiencing symptoms that are worrisome or potentially life-threatening. During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, people with mild symptoms should get tested and isolate at home. If they are experiencing symptoms of concern such as shortness of breath, they should go to the ER. If they are not sure they can call 811 to determine whether they need to go to the hospital as well as which one, as not all hospitals admit COVID-19 patients.”

Zachary Levine is an Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and an attending physician at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). His areas of expertise include community outreach, geriatric emergency medicine and medical error prevention.

zachary.levine [at] (English)

Isolation and loneliness

Joe Flanders, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

The Holidays are an important moment for us to take a break from the daily grind, connect with others and recharge our batteries. For some, the expectation that all of this can be achieved in a period packed with events and family gatherings is unrealistic and many can be left feeling disappointed, or worse. We are all feeling a little isolated and deprived these days and a small window to gather and connect seems woefully insufficient. That said, the restrictions will likely calm the typical frantic pace of the holiday season this year, which may mitigate some of the stress.”

Joe Flanders is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and the founder and director of the MindSpace Clinic, a Montreal-based full-service clinic promoting well-being in individuals, organizations, and communities. He offers Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to individuals, groups, and organizations.

joe.flanders [at] (English, French)

Anna Weinberg, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

Stress is a risk factor for a huge range of health problems, including increases in anxiety and depression. The COVID-19 pandemic has many elements that make it a particularly potent stressor. However, not everyone is experiencing the pandemic in the same way, and different individuals are differentially susceptible to the effects of stress. It is critical to address both the unequal distribution of pandemic-related stress and to promote strategies that individuals can use to buffer against the adverse effects of stress.”

Anna Weinberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Clinical Neuroscience. Her research focuses on identifying biological pathways that give rise to disordered emotional experience.

anna.weinberg [at] (English)

New Year's resolutions and goals

Anne Holding, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Psychology

When you are selecting your goals, pay close attention to the language you are using. Is your goal something you ‘have to do’, ‘should be doing’ or ‘something you want to do’? Research suggests you will be much more successful at the goals you actually want to do rather than the goals you feel pressure and obliged to pursue. If you find you really do not want to work on your goal or that it simply feels too effortful and draining, consider adapting the goal to something you feel more excited about or letting go of the goal all together – maybe now is just not the right time for it.”

Anne Holding is a recent PhD graduate from the Department of Psychology, where she is now involved as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the McGill Human Motivation Lab. Her research looks at autonomous motivation, goal disengagement and motivational antecedents.

anne.holding [at] (English)

Richard Koestner, Full Professor, Department of Psychology

To say the least, 2020 has been a year like no other. As it is coming to an end, we may be inclined to make more ambitious New Year resolutions to make up for what could be considered as ‘lost’ time. In normal times, 80% of people focus on personal achievement goals, like losing weight or improving fitness. In light of the isolating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be more beneficial for our well-being to instead focus on social goals in 2021, such as reconnecting with old friends – virtually at first, but in person after our vaccinations.”

Richard Koestner is a Full Professor in the Department of Psychology and the head of the McGill Human Motivation Lab. For more than 30 years, he has been conducting research on goal-setting, self-regulation and internalization processes.

richard.koestner [at] (English)

Traveling during the Holidays

John Gradek, Faculty Lecturer, School of Continuing Studies

The Canadian aviation industry is not alone in its positioning as it attempts to entice air travel during the holiday period. There are major marketing efforts to promote the hygiene of the aircraft experience, as well as the number of initiatives to provide arrivals COVID-19 testing at Toronto and Calgary airports on a trial basis. Canadian public health officials remain steadfast in their advice to only undertake essential travel, and that arrivals into Canada are obligated to complete a 14-day quarantine. The decision to travel this holiday period requires a very personal risk assessment of the entire experience and the health status of the traveler.”

John Gradek is lecturing in the Diploma program in Integrated Aviation Management as well as in both the certificate and diploma programs of Supply Chain Management, Logistics and Operations Management. He has held senior roles at Air Canada in operations, marketing and planning and has worked in the development and the delivery of commercial airline management programs for the International Aviation Management Training Institute.

john.gradek [at] (English, French)

Vincent Poirier, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine

When traveling, in-flight transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is a real risk, which may be minimized by combining several mitigation strategies. These include mandatory masking onboard, minimizing unmasked time while eating, turning on gasper airflow while inflight, frequent hand sanitizing, disinfecting high touch surfaces, promoting distancing while boarding and deplaning and limiting onboard passenger movement. The implementation of a standardized digital health pass for COVID-19 and more robust contact tracing may be key factors to allow for a gradual safe return to sustainable and responsible travel.”

Vincent Poirier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and a physician and aviation medicine specialist at the McGill University Health Centre. He is also the co-founder and director of the Onboard Medical Emergencies course that teaches health professionals how to manage inflight medical emergencies. His expertise has been sought after by major airlines, such as Air Canada and Air Transat, where he serves as a medical consultant on passenger health.

vincent.poirier [at] (English, French)

Wellness and spirituality

Robert Whitley, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry

COVID-19 restrictions have caused separation from the people, places, and social activities that give our lives purpose and meaning. This can cause loneliness. That said, there is a crucial difference between being alone and being lonely. Solitude can inspire renewal through reflection and introspection and can also give time for meaningful activities including meditation, prayer, exercise, writing, creative arts and other activities which can foster positive mental health. It does not have to be all doom and gloom.”

Rob Whitley is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the Principal Investigator of the Social Psychiatry Research and Interest Group (SPRING) at the Douglas Research Centre. He conducts research on various areas of social psychiatry including religion/spirituality and mental health, psychosocial recovery from mental illness and men’s mental health.

robert.whitley [at] (English, French)

Contact Information

Frederique Mazerolle
McGill University
frederique.mazerolle [at]
Office Phone: 
(514) 398-6693
Mobile Phone: 
(514) 617-8615
Back to top