By: Lisa Philippart
For many people, the holiday season will look very different this year. Often the last few months of the year are busy with parties and visiting family and friends. But with COVID, things like traveling and large get-togethers may not be possible. Many people have lost loved ones, their jobs, and are dealing with financial stress. Others, like healthcare workers, may be working overtime and are unable to take as much time off as they usually can. It will be difficult to cope with these kinds of changes, especially if certain holidays are the only time you can see some of your loved ones. If you live with a mental health challenge, you might have an especially difficult time with the uncertainty and change of plans this year. Many people with mental health conditions find consistency important in their recovery, especially during times of high stress…like holidays and now the pandemic. Sudden shifts in tradition can cause people to feel an extreme loss of control on top of disappointment. Change is difficult for most people, but that doesn’t mean that the holidays are destined to be a disappointment this year. Let’s look at some ways to cope with the tough feelings you may be having, while still enjoying the season.
Begin by identifying how you are feeling. Figuring out your emotions about the upcoming holidays can make things feel less overwhelming. Many of us are experiencing a lot of different emotions all at once right now, which is hard for our brains to process. This year has been difficult for many reasons, and that means that some of your distress is probably related to things other than the holidays. It is completely normal for you to be feeling a bit more emotional than usual right now. You can sort through these feelings by journaling, talking to friends and family, or just spending some quiet time alone. While the holidays are mainly about thankfulness and celebration, this can be a really hard time of year, even during normal circumstances. If you are missing a loved one, think of ways to honor them during the festivities. If you lost a job or had to drop out of school, take the time to recognize and accept the challenges that go along with these losses. Even if you haven’t lost anything specific, we’ve all lost our sense of normalcy this year; so it’s okay to grieve that during this time.
There’s no denying that our lives will be different this year, but holidays don’t need to be cancelled, or even minimized. You can still send sweets to your friends and family, make your favorite meals, decorate your home, make gingerbread houses, or watch your favorite movies. For the things you can’t do, brainstorm how to adapt them during COVID. Come up with virtual games to play over Zoom, or plan a small gathering outdoors if possible. Try to remember that while your holiday season may normally be full of excitement and joy, it can also be a time of high stress. So even though you may be giving up some of your favorite things about the holidays this year, you’re probably leaving behind some stressors too…days of travel, to-do lists, dinner planning, etc. You don’t need to be happy about this, but be careful not to distort the situation and make it seem worse than it really is.
This year, practicing gratitude is more important than ever. While it may seem harder to find things to appreciate, there is still plenty to be thankful for. Make a conscious effort to regularly identify things as broad as your health, or something as specific as your favorite song playing on the radio. Change is hard but it isn’t always bad. There are still ways to celebrate the season with your loved ones, even if you must give up some of your favorite traditions. Find creative ways to adapt or start new traditions…they may even add more meaning to your holiday season.
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor