Holidays During COVID-19: Making the Best of It

The holiday season is typically a time that comes with a mixture of stress and excitement. This time of year has an aura of positivity for most people, with celebrations and reflecting on a year past being common. It also usually can be stressful because of the often hectic schedules and being around family more often than usual. Travel, buying gifts, seeing family, and religious events are a part of many different cultures during this time of the year. Regardless of your faith or tradition, this time of year has evolved to be a time of festivities and coming together for most of us. This year, however, has not only already been quite different but is setting up to be a completely new experience for all of us. The COVID-19 pandemic will impact your holiday traditions and plans irrespective of your opinion on the pandemic and how to handle it. Stores and events are closed or limited, travel is difficult, and many people are going to stay home throughout the holidays. I have read some stories of people staying home for the Thanksgiving holiday and saying that it actually wasn’t that bad. For some people, going to see family is stressful for a multitude of reasons and having a year off of that is not exactly torturous. But even if you are not broken up about not being able to gather with the people you usually would this time of year, major changes in the way you typically do things will always create challenges in the realm of mental health.

Being isolated has been a common problem for many of us during COVID-19. Even as things have ebbed and flowed with regulations, we have all definitely had our interactions with others reduced. Whether you are more introverted or extroverted, nearly 9 months of lowered connection with friends and family has run thin on just about everyone. During the holiday season, this will likely be an even more intense feeling of discomfort. You may be choosing to stay home for the holidays, or be okay with being around others but having friends and family decide to avoid interacting in big gatherings, but either way the traditional holiday season gatherings are going to be fewer and smaller this year. So, what can we do to make the best of this holiday season? There are ways to stay safe, sane, and still enjoy our favorite traditions from this time of year.

Getting Together without Being Together

Most of us have had some interaction with prominent video or audio calling technology that has exploded in popularity during COVID. Whichever is your favorite app or program, all of them give us ways to have at least some form of connection with those we care about during this time of year. But, how can we make it feel like we are still together in a personal level that technology does not necessarily grant? There are some things that being on a screen with someone simply does not duplicate. Some ways to make it feel more normal while doing technology-based gatherings with others are:

  • Don’t sit on a couch/chair and simply talk to one another. Do the things you would usually be doing! Cook, decorate, even play games while speaking to others.
  • Use group calls. Saying Happy Holidays to a family member over the phone is not the same as being in a group setting with multiple family or friends. Try to schedule a day or portion of a day where a bigger group of your circle can be on the same call/video.
  • Stick to normal routine of celebrations. If your biggest celebratory day of this season is Christmas Eve, the First Day of Hanukkah, or another particular day, do your best to keep your virtual gathering on this same day. Normalcy is hard to come by this year, so put effort into keeping things as close to normal as possible.

Getting into the Feeling of the Holidays

This time of year, as earlier stated, is a strong mixture of positive and negative emotions for most of us. Hopefully, you are in a place in life where the positive outweighs the stress. COVID-19 has made it harder for us to access that positive feeling of giving and caring that usually increases during this next month or two. Searching for where this feeling comes from and how to find it in a year with so many extra barriers to positivity is important for our mental health. Typically, this feeling of holiday joy comes from external forces reminding us of our past good memories during this time of year. Stores and public spaces putting up their holiday decorations (although sometimes absurdly early), trigger our brains to remember things that occurred during this time of year. For many of us, this time of year was a time of excitement as a child and adolescent. We also may have had positive memories as being a parent or adult and providing children with a fun holiday season. The external triggers are going to be harder to find this year but not impossible. You may take a walk around your neighborhood and see Christmas decorations, or go to the store and see holiday foods. This will prime your brain to find that holiday spirit. You don’t need to go out the same way you would during a year without COVID, but certainly we can all find ways to go outside a bit and be exposed to the external triggers.

Perhaps a more important goal for this year will be to find internal ways to increase our holiday joy. This year is a great opportunity to practice more caring and charity than ever. Charity is not only donations of toys and money, but is also a practice of helping others in little ways every day. A year that was filled with turmoil and conflict provides a rare chance for even the smallest acts of kindness to cause great changes in other’s mental health. Some ways to feed that inner feeling of holiday positivity are:

  • Reach out to someone you have not heard from in awhile and ask how they have been. Make sure you are not calling someone to dump your stress on them, but to hear their story.
  • If you have people you care for who you usually give gifts to but are not going to be seeing during the holidays, still get gifts but have them delivered to them.
  • Stay away from constant conversation about the difficulties of 2020. We have all had enough discussion of how hard 2020 has been in many ways, it doesn’t need to be the topic of conversation at all gatherings.

The Upside of COVID Holiday Season

A small silver lining for this holiday season is that some of the stressors we usually face will be reduced. Some people undoubtedly have had those years where December was filled with trips, multiple parties or gatherings, responsibilities, and traditions. This year may allow us to have thinner schedules this year and be less overwhelmed with all the plans. With the extra time, it is important we fill it with things that help facilitate the growth of positive feelings. Whether you decide to spend more time on your hobbies, spend more time with your close family whom you live with, or work on self-improvement, use the extra time that usually would be dedicated to the busy holiday season wisely. Isolation and boredom are common issues right now and they will feel even more intense during the winter months.

If you are looking for ways to manage the Holiday Season during the COVID pandemic, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.



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