The holidays as we knew it were a time to be spent with all our loved ones. We looked forward to greeting each other with kisses and hugs and gathering around a table conversing over great food and drinks! This year the holidays may look a little different. These complicated times are causing complicated celebrations as people are all over the map regarding their response to the Coronavirus. As the holidays approach, you may be feeling stressed out and anxious but unlike in previous years your stress is not due to crowded stores or buying the right gifts. We all know that 2020 has been extremely difficult. You're probably wondering how on earth can you still enjoy the holidays?
You may have lost a loved one to COVID-19 or you may be apprehensive about spending the holidays with your extended family. You may not be able to travel to another state to visit your parents, grandparents or your children. It is extremely disappointing and you may be grieving the traditional ways you usually spend the holidays. But that doesn't mean we can't celebrate in new and different ways. Remember there is no right or wrong way to handle the holidays.
Rebecca always travels to Florida to visit her mother and father for the holiday season. Her parents are getting older and have a weak immune system. Rebecca had to weigh the pros and cons of visiting her parents for the holidays. Rebecca soon realized that in order to keep herself and her parents safe, she would have to spend the holidays alone. Part of Rebecca was grieving. She did not know if she would ever be able to spend the holidays with her parents again. Rebecca felt defeated and did not have an interest in celebrating the holidays. Rebecca was in need of a connection with her parents after so much social distance.
I'm sure many of you can relate to Rebecca in some way. Here are some suggestions to help you cope better with the holidays this year:
1. Manage your expectations: This year will be different. We want to recreate moments from our past holidays but this is a new type of holiday season. We can still decorate, listen to holiday music, and bake holiday cookies. We also can still exchange gifts even though it may not be in person with everyone you are used to seeing. We need to simplify our expectations and not compare them.
2. Plan for the holiday's now: Be creative! Your extended family may not be at your holiday table this year but let's not forget about the zoom calls! During the pandemic there have been plenty of zoom happy hours with family and friends. My extended family already decided on a zoom "Happetizer" hour for Thanksgiving.
3. Focus on what you can control: There are a lot of things that are out of our control during this holiday season such as travel and dining restrictions. However, there are some things that you can control. You can try to make lemonade out of lemons by just shifting your attitude. Although it is perfectly normal to feel disappointed you can still choose to get into a solution focused mindset. For example, accepting that it may not safe to have large indoor holiday gatherings you can still plan a safe smaller intimate get together using the safety guidelines.
4. Create new traditions: Although you may be longing for the old way you celebrated the holidays you can create new traditions. For example, you can offer something to others by performing a kind act. Bake a pie and bring it to your neighbor or write a letter to someone in the military. Making others feel good will make you feel good too!
5. Talk to your kids about "different" celebrations: Your kids will probably be disappointed that they may not be able to hang out with their cousins and have their annual Thanksgiving dinner with them. But a change in plans may be a good opportunity to help them adapt, learn and grow. Remind them that the holidays aren't cancelled and that they are just going to be different this year. Acknowledge and empathize with any sadness or disappointment they might feel. Don't minimize their emotions by telling them "it's not a big deal" because to them it is. Emphasize that you are going to do the best you can to make it the best holiday you can under the current circumstances.
6. Be respectful: You and your extended family may disagree about how to celebrate. For example, your brother and sister-law may feel more comfortable about getting together in person than you do. You may not like their opinion but please respect it. Don't judge or attack each other just because you feel differently. There is enough hostility and divisivness in the world today, Let's not let that happen within our family.
7. Ask for help: If you are a struggling this holiday season, reach out to a friend or a family member. Talk through what your fears are. Look for support groups or start therapy. We are always here to help.
I wish everyone a safe, peaceful and healthy holiday season!
Risa Simpson-Davis, LCSW