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Christmas tree decorated and fireplace lit for the pandemic holidays

New challenges threaten to make the holidays less happy

by Emily Koelsch | Contributor
October 1, 2020


As the COVID-19 crisis continues to disrupt almost all aspects of life, it’s clear the holiday season of 2020 is not going to be spared from its impacts. With restrictions and precautions in place that will likely only increase during cooler weather and cold and flu season, many of the much anticipated events, traditions and celebrations of the season are likely to be canceled or look very different. Given that the holiday season is different this year, it’s a good idea to plan ahead to ensure that you’re able to cope with the changes and even enjoy the upcoming season.

Why is it necessary to mentally prepare for the upcoming season?

For many, the holiday season carries a lot of emotions, events and stress. It’s generally a time that is centered around traditions and lots of time with family and friends. Even under the best circumstances, however, the holiday season can often exacerbate feelings of loss and loneliness.

Knowing the emotions and stress that can come with the holiday season and knowing that this year will look different, it’s important to adjust expectations about the upcoming season and to mentally prepare. The simple act of acknowledging that this season will be different than in years past and will have some unique challenges is an important first step towards coping with these shifts.

Next, it’s helpful to think about some general strategies to stay mentally and physically healthy as we approach the holiday season. Staying healthy will help to ensure that you’re able to cope with and enjoy the season. Here are some things to consider:

Happy mixed race family celebrates the holidays
  • How can you stay physically active as we enter the holiday season? While this can be difficult when the weather changes, staying physically active is important for staying mentally and physically healthy.
  • Will you need extra support this holiday season? The holidays can be a challenging time under the best of circumstances and will be particularly so this year. It’s normal to need some extra support – whether with a friend, a therapist or family members. Anticipate what you will need and make plans to ensure that you get it.
  • How can you connect with family and friends? Obviously, traditional events and gatherings will be different this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected to people around you. In fact, it’s important that you find ways to stay connected. Start planning now for how you can ensure that you stay connected to loved ones whether it’s an outdoor gathering with a bonfire, zoom calls or streaming religious services.

What are ways that I can safely celebrate the holidays this year?

Even though the holidays will look different, that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate and enjoy them. Instead, this year will be about making changes that will allow for a safe and healthy holiday season. Here are some tips for ensuring that the holiday season is meaningful and joyful.

Simplify expectations

This year the holidays will be a little simpler, and the truth is that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As you plan for the holidays, simplify your expectations about what they will look like, and don’t worry if you find yourself enjoying this shift. With less events and travel, there is more time to slow down and enjoy some of the simple things of the season like listening to Christmas carols, watching a favorite holiday movie or making a family recipe. This year will be simpler and slower. Expect that and find ways to enjoy it.

Reflect on what you value most about the holidays

Amidst the hustle and bustle of most holiday seasons, there’s little time to stop and reflect. Take the opportunity this season to do some reflection about the holidays and to consider what you value most about the season. Likely, it’s not the events and parties, but instead the people or significance of the holidays.

This year spend time determining what you value most, then find ways to celebrate those things. For example, if it’s the religious significance of the holiday, look for Zoom services or live streams that you can participate in; if it’s getting time with friends and family, find ways to safely connect whether it’s virtually, by writing cards, having an outdoor gathering or making personalized gifts; or, if you enjoy the traditions involved, find ways to still honor them, perhaps through making a traditional meal, putting up decorations or sharing a cherished tradition with a younger generation through a letter, video, picture or even a recipe.

Start new traditions

It’s never too late to start a new tradition, and this is the perfect year to do so. A new tradition is a good way to celebrate and to enjoy some of the unique aspects of this holiday season (without comparing it to previous ones). Here are just a few ideas to help get you started:

  • Cook something new. There are so many great holiday foods, but many people enjoy the same few year after year. Mix things up this year and try something new that you’ve not found the time to do in previous years – maybe take on a Buche de Noel or even make homemade gingerbread. This is the year to be adventurous and to try something you’ve always wanted to.
  • Add new decorations. If you’ve never put up outdoor lights, this might be the year to do it. And, having family or friends come help could be a good way to connect outside. Or, maybe you don’t usually put up a tree or light a Menorah because you’re traveling but can add one this season. Add something special to your decorations to make the season feel a little more festive.

Find ways to give to others

This season is going to be difficult for everyone in lots of different ways. After all, many people have lost family members and jobs amidst this crisis. As you work to make this a joyful season, find ways that you can give to others. Maybe that means giving to a local foodbank, donating toys to an Angel Tree child, or simply making food for a family nearby that’s overwhelmed with the additional stressors that the pandemic has brought. While traditional volunteer opportunities might not make sense this year, there are still opportunities to give your time, energy and resources. Finding ways to do that will help to brighten the season for others and for you.

Get creative

Perhaps the key to this holiday season is staying creative. It will look different and will have its challenges, but it can still be a time of celebration, giving thanks and enjoying friends and family. Whether you host a virtual dinner, organize a remote white-elephant exchange or participate in a neighborhood drive-by parade, there are plenty of ways to celebrate. Get creative as the season approaches and enjoy finding different ways to connect and celebrate this year.

The holidays can be a stressful time, and this holiday season promises to bring its own challenges. That said, by shifting your expectations and planning ahead, you can find ways to stay healthy and happy throughout the season. Now is the time to start planning and to find new ways to experience this time of year.

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