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Holiday virtual chat with loved ones during COVID-19 pandemic

Holidays During the Pandemic: Find Your Silver Lining


By Kristy Warren

 

2020 has been a year of challenges and sacrifices, and the idea of “forfeiting” this holiday season to Coronavirus COVID-19 can feel like the last straw. While family gatherings, travel, and traditions need to unfold differently this year, different doesn’t have to mean bad or losing the holiday as a whole.

 

Jerry Cerrone, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with Laurel Behavioral Health, shares tips for making the most of an unusual holiday season by getting creative, looking for the good in difficult situations, and allowing space for your thoughts and feelings.

 

OWNING THE STRUGGLE 

It’s OK to struggle. With so much stress, worry, loss, and upheaval in our daily lives, it’s completely normal to feel more emotional or negative than usual. If you’re already struggling with your mental health, the holiday season can be particularly challenging—add a pandemic on top, and it’s a recipe that can be too much for anyone. Take stock of how you’re feeling; to help you understand why you’re feeling that way, walk through what was going through your mind right before you began feeling sad, anxious, or mad. Understanding where your feelings are coming from is key to addressing the source and better managing those feelings.

 

Acknowledge losses. Everyone is experiencing loss of some kind this year, be it loved ones, health, financial security, gatherings, plans, routines, travel, or a sense of safety and stability. It’s important to recognize your losses and how you feel about them; denying them and pretending everything is normal can make the loss feel greater or hurt more deeply.

Once you have acknowledged your feelings of loss, don’t get stuck dwelling on them. Consider the new appreciation you’ll have for the holidays in the brighter days to come. Then move forward to thinking about how you can celebrate safely this year and what you’ll gain for having sacrificed your usual plans in the short-term—from keeping your family and neighbors safe to ensuring hospitals have enough resources and staff to care for all patients.

Woman feeling depressed and down about the holidays

Don’t romanticize the past. We tend to view this season through rose-tinted glasses and “remember” idealized holidays of days past. But if we’re being honest, this isn’t always the most wonderful time of the year. Even in a regular year, the holidays can cause relationship tension, exacerbate depression and grief, overwhelm us with an impracticable amount of errands or obligations, skyrocket stress, and cause financial strain as we rush to decorate, throw the best event, or find the perfect gifts. The holidays can be a special time but remember the good and the bad. It will help you keep things in perspective.

 

MAKING THE BEST OF HARD TIMES

 

Find the good. With so much negativity, it can be hard to focus on the positive. Start small:  think of one thing that makes you feel grateful. It could be a small thing like the smell of freshly baked cookies or clean sheets, comfy slippers, or finding a new favorite show on Netflix. It could be a big source of gratitude like having a safe home to shelter in, enough food to eat, or a close friend who checks in on you.

 

Think through your changed routines and look for silver linings. Not getting to attend your child’s school activities is hard, but perhaps your family became closer by having more built-in family time at home and slowing down enough to enjoy it. Maybe you never planned to work from home, but really appreciate not driving in bad weather or having high gas bills. If you’re an essential worker, realizing you’re making a lifesaving difference in the lives of so many can help balance the stress. Find whatever makes you thankful then focus on it and hold onto that goodness.

A couple celebrating the holidays together

Focus on what’s important to you. We feel a lot of pressure to “shop until we drop” or go all out to deliver the perfect holiday, but gift giving and parties aren’t necessary to make this season meaningful or memorable. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do this year or what we’re told is important, ask yourself what is most valuable and enjoyable to you about the holidays. Maybe it’s downtime from work or school to relax and revitalize or charity during the "season of giving."

Maybe it’s family or friends (found family). Maybe it’s the spiritual component of Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or Solstice. Once you’ve decided what’s really important to you about this season, ask “how can I safely enjoy what is most meaningful to me this year?” Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to change up traditions and try something new. Coming up blank? Read on for some fun ideas!

 

Different doesn’t have to mean bad. The holidays will be different this year, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a letdown! While we’re just celebrating in-person with our immediate households (i.e., those who live with us full-time), there are creative, safe ways to involve loved ones near and far. If you’re dreading another Zoom chat, change it up with a holiday competition. Try an online multi-player game, TikTok challenge, or homemade craft. Who can make the best gingerbread house, cookies, decorated cake, or ugly sweater?

Task your family to fashion a wreath, menorah, kinara, or ornament out of household items and vote on the winner. Set up a secret Santa exchange with friends, mail a gift to your recipient, then gather together online to open gifts and guess your Santa. Miss having a big family dinner? Set a shared mealtime and chat over a virtual family dinner or set a rain date for the celebration as a holiday-do-over when it’s safe to meet again.

Sure, this year won’t be the same, but different doesn’t have to mean it isn’t fun or special.

Crafting a holiday wreath out of gift bows

Know what you can control. You may feel robbed by COVID-19, but you still have control over many aspects of your holiday, and this can be used as a time to re-center and renegotiate how you want to spend your holidays in the future. Let go of what you don’t enjoy. If gift giving causes you perennial stress, reduce how much you spend, buy fewer gifts, or determine other ways to show loved ones you care. Cut out traditions or unhealthy relationships that don’t work for you. Perhaps decorating the whole house feels more like a burden than fun—it’s OK to skip it. Revaluate if all canceled events are something you really want to attend in the future. Were you just going because you felt you “had” to? Use this unique time to evaluate how you want to navigate the holidays moving forward to maximize your enjoyment.

 

TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF

 

Find connection. Many people are yearning for more connection this year but being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. Even though you aren’t visiting in person, make time to connect through calls, cards, texts, and social media. Consider reaching out to others you’d like to be closer to and sharing stories / bonding over shared interests and challenges. Consider attending an online community event. If giving back is what you enjoy most about the holiday, volunteer to help make fundraising calls for a charity you support.

Relaxing hot cocoa and marshmallows

Self-care matters. In order to care for others, we must care for ourselves. Stay on top of eating well. Get enough sleep, exercise, fresh air, and water. If you’re feeling stressed, step back and take a few deep breaths.

For help clearing your head or getting something off your chest, try a guided meditation app or connect with others via an online support group. Set healthy boundaries and know it’s ok to say no. 

To reduce holiday stress, set budgets for spending and avoid hot-button topics when tensions are running high. Don’t “self-medicate” with drugs or alcohol; if you are struggling, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.

 

Talk to a professional. The holidays aren’t happy for everyone. If you or a loved one are struggling with unchecked anxiety, stress, or depression, it can help to talk to a professional. A mental health professional can provide you and your family with helpful ways to cope, combat distorted thinking, and redirect worry into action to feel better prepared and more in control. If you need to talk to someone about your struggles, concerns, or worries, Laurel Behavioral Health is here to help. Laurel Health not only offers an important listening ear in a safe, confidential environment but also personalized strategies for coping with difficult situations. 

 

By acknowledging our feelings, taking good care of ourselves, finding the good, and getting creative, we can take control of our holiday season to celebrate meaningfully and safely.

 

To make an appointment with Laurel Behavioral Health, call 570-723-0620. For more holiday wellness tips, stayed tuned to our news page or visit us on Facebook at facebook.com/laurelhc. 

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