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This will be a unique holiday season.

Navigating the holidays during a pandemic creates a challenge we have never faced.

You may feel a heaviness in your heart as you consider time honoured traditions that will need to be adapted or perhaps even cancelled. Feeling sadness and grief as you consider this is normal.

Some may feel a sense of relief to be freed of the obligatory rituals that may have presented challenges for them.

Others may feel torn. They want to participate in holiday gatherings. They may feel pressured to do so. But if they choose not to participate, they may struggle with feelings of guilt that they are letting their loved ones down.

Whatever you are feeling, it is normal, and you are not alone. Many people are struggling emotionally as they face this holiday season. Here are a few tips to help you find your way through the upcoming holidays. 

8 Tips to Manage Your Emotional Health during the Holidays

  1. Acknowledge this is a unique year. The theme of 2020 has been adaptation and the holiday season is no exception. Acknowledging the reality that this year will be different is important. We can feel sad that this season will not be typical, but we can also choose to still find joy in it.
  2. Communicate your boundaries. Consider what is right for you this holiday season and share it with the people you would normally share time with over the holidays. And doing this sooner, rather than later allows them time to adjust and accept that things will be different this year. If they share similar thoughts, this will be quite easy, however, be prepared for some push-back if they have less restrictive thoughts about how to manage.
  3. Be okay if others are not okay with your boundaries. It is normal to want others to feel good about the decisions we make. But we cannot control this. This year we may be faced with experiencing family members confusion, disappointment, or perhaps even anger if your decisions and/or boundaries are not in alignment with theirs. Your challenge is to tolerate this while holding the intention that you have made a decision that is right for you. You can calmly and lovingly share that you want to see them, but it is just not safe this year.
  4. Reflect on the reason for the season. Take time to align with your values and what is important to you. And practice flexibility and creativity with your expression of your values. For many, connection may be an important value of the holidays. So how do you honour this value if your annual gathering is cancelled? Consider making a personalized video to send to your loved ones expressing your appreciation of them and what they bring to your life. Or you could hand-write a personal card or letter expressing similar sentiments.
  5. Consider how to create surprise & delight. If you are feeling a sense of loss for what can not be this holiday season, acknowledge those feelings and then shift your emotional energy to how you may be able to create surprise and delight for people you may be missing over the holidays. Again, creativity and flexibility will help you think outside of the box. Singing Christmas carols outside of a family member’s home, making a video with old photos and sharing it together on a video chat, or creating a daily audio recording you send sharing funny memories or stories.
  6. The present is a present. Although this can be challenging, there is great benefit from focusing on the present. Being in the moment with an open and mindful heart gives us the gift of being “present.” It is so easy to lament about the past or fret about the future, but the truth is that all we really have is the here and now. Embracing the present is something that takes practice and patience, but it is worth the effort. Be intentional about creating a space where you can be in the moment.
  7. Give yourself the gift of gratitude. Gratitude starts with noticing the goodness in life. It is the spontaneous feeling or a practice of making a conscious effort to count your blessings. It is a simple yet powerful way to enhance good feelings within us. It has been shown to help foster resilience and boost our mental and physical health.
  8. Seek support. If facing the holiday season is creating emotions that are difficult to manage, seek support from a trusted friend or family member, or from a professional therapist. This holiday season may create some emotional pain; however, no one should suffer through that alone.
One day the pandemic will end, and we will return to our beloved rituals and traditions. We will freely see loved ones again. For now, we are faced with accepting a reality we do not like, but we can find ways to manage; find ways to adapt; find creative ways to connect and find ways to boost the spirit of those you love.

by: Mary Joan Brinson MSW, RSW