The idea of a “COVID-Christmas” and the uncertainty that comes with it is a source of anxiety, frustration and sadness for many people this year. If you are someone who tends to find the holidays difficult or is struggling this year in particular, remember that you are not alone and that a lot of people are finding it hard (even if they don’t show it). To help tackle the holidays, here are six things to keep in mind this Christmas:
1.Different year, different expectations: It’s important to have realistic goals and expectations of what Christmas will look like, particularly when living in a pandemic. Remember that the “perfect” Christmas doesn’t exist. While optimism is great, realistic optimism is key. Striving for perfection isn’t only mentally exhausting and impractical, but it also means that we are constantly setting ourselves up for disappointment. Although Christmas is often portrayed as the “most wonderful time of the year”, remember that movies, songs, and adverts are not real life. Taking the pressure off yourself to have a “magical” Christmas may be one way to lower anxiety, frustration, or sadness. That being said, if you tend to struggle during Christmas, give this year a chance to be different. Your past doesn’t have to determine your present and future. Keep in mind that your attitude and expectations toward the holidays can significantly impact how you experience them.
2. Reflect on the meaning of Christmas: Take this time to reflect on the origins of Christmas and what this holiday means to you. It may be associated with faith, hope, light, family, resilience, gratitude, giving back, or something completely different. While a significant part of the holidays will be affected by the pandemic this year, Christmas can be more than the dinners, parades or trips. Perhaps this unusual year can be a good time to reflect more deeply on the emotional or spiritual meaning behind Christmas. As stated by the influential psychiatrist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
3. No “right” or “wrong” way of feeling: 2020 has been rough andyou’re allowed to find the holidays overwhelming, frustrating or stressful, so try not to put pressure on yourself to have to feel or act in a certain way. There is no “right” or “wrong” way of feeling. Allow yourself to feel all of your emotions; you can’t force yourself to feel a particular way just because it’s Christmas. If you’re feeling anxious or guilty about not enjoying the holidays, remember that you’re entitled to feel the way you do. On the flip side, it’s also okay if you’re feeling relieved by the idea of a different Christmas. Try and avoid labeling your emotions as good or bad, the feelings you have towards Christmas this year are likely due to very valid reasons.
4. Be kind and compassionate: While tensions remain high and living in a pandemic is stressful, remember to be kind to yourself and others. Try not to judge people for the way they wish to spend the holidays this year. If you find yourself getting frustrated and critical, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you’re making assumptions. For instance, even within the legal guidelines, people have different social interaction comfort levels. Rather than judging or imposing your views onto others, respect their stance; it’s a difficult time and everyone is dealing with it the best they can. We need to support each other now more than ever, so let’s make an effort to be kinder and more compassionate this Christmas.
5. Self-care is essential: Research shows that self-care is vital for your physical, emotional and mental well-being. No matter how hectic your holidays are, it’s crucial to take care of yourself and engage in activities that you enjoy. Perhaps self-care is asserting boundaries with a family member, changing your Christmas plans, going for a run, indulging in a favorite dessert, calling a friend, or taking a long warm bath. It may be helpful to have go-to self-care strategies that you can use in stressful situations. Remember that it’s necessary to take care of yourself at all times and Christmas is no exception. Feeling stuck on how to practice self-care? Read this.
6. Create your own traditions and rituals: Life is inherently different during COVID-19 which means that Christmas can be different too. An unusual holiday season doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing or mean that Christmas is “ruined” or “canceled”. A silver lining of 2020 is that you’re not forced to do what you typically do, because this is not a typical year. This may be the perfect chance to create new traditions and rituals that are meaningful to you, rather than following the footsteps of previous years. For tips and ideas on how to create your own holiday rituals, click here.
If you’re going through a difficult time this Christmas and feel unable to keep these six points in mind, please remember this: it’s okay to not be okay. The holidays can be an extremely stressful and emotionally triggering time for a lot of people, and on top of it, 2020 has been a tough year. Going through a challenging time does not make you any less lovable, admirable, or strong, it simply means that you are human.
Blanca Connelly and Ana Aizpún