Well, I think it is safe to say that most of us are struggling right now . We've had it. Numbers are up. We miss our loved ones. We're tired. We've got pandemic fatigue. Our hearts hurt. We're feeling a bit hopeless. We're 'over it'. As the holidays approach, a lot of us are feeling the extra heaviness of grief (don't worry, this gets more uplifting). So, I thought it might be a good idea to give some tips on how to get through the holidays in the best way possible.
So here is my updated Holiday Survival Guide: Pandemic Edition
Just because you have always gone to ______'s over the holidays, or hosted, or are expected to go to your friend or family’s house, doesn't mean you have to. Especially this year. Check in with yourself and see what you need. What feels safe/within your boundaries? Just because your mom or brother is okay taking the risk, doesn’t mean you have to be.
Let your loved ones know what you are okay and not okay with. Ex. I’m okay if we do a gift exchange outside and open them together online, but I am not okay going into anyone’s house. Or “I’m comfortable going for a holiday hike together, but only if we all wear masks”.
The same goes for any type of holiday get together, whether online or in-person/socially distanced/outside. Can you set boundaries ahead of time? Ex. If you talk about my weight, I’m logging offline. If grandma asks me again when I am getting married, I’ll be cutting the conversation short.
What boundaries do you need to put in place to ensure you reduce your own anxiety/have the best holiday possible?
Make new traditions
Because many of us won’t be able to carry out our normal traditions (assuming you like your normal traditions), one way to make this holiday more ‘joyful’ is to create new ones. This can also be particularly important for people who have gone through additional changes in the last year: a move, a divorce or break-up, children leaving home, or the loss of a family member.
Can you try creating a new tradition or two and maybe even try getting excited about it? Maybe this is the year you spend all xmas day in your pajamas, light the menorah outside with your parents, carol in the streets, donate to charity instead of exchanging gifts, or go for a long walk on X-mas eve. Change can be really difficult, but creating new traditions can make it less painful.
Spend quality time alone
For some of us, the holidays can feel really lonely. This year will likely feel especially lonely for some of us who aren’t able to see our loved ones or folks who don’t have a lot of people in their life. Can you make some of that time quality time by yourself?
Doing intentional self-care practices can sometimes make us feel less lonely, and more just like we are spending quality time alone (even if we have had enough of that this year).
Journal, get outside, take a bath, read a book you have been wanting to read, stretch, watch a stupid movie, treat yourself to something special. Do whatever you need to do for refuel and feed your soul during this really difficult season.
Reach out to people
On that note, it may be important to reach out to people or put things in place that will make you feel less lonely. Schedule walks with friends, or phone call/video chats with loved ones. Ask friends to check-in on you. Reach out to other friends who are alone this holiday season. Watch Xmas movies online with family. Volunteer to help folks who are also struggling this time of year. Book a therapy session.
Put things in place now to feel less lonely during the holidays.
Feel your feelings
It’s okay to be sad or angry or even happy right now. It is an emotional time and you are gonna feel a lot of stuff. One emotion that may come up is grief. There is the usual grief that comes up for many folks around this time, including grief for past relationships, estranged family members, and loved ones lost.
Throw in the loss of holiday traditions, getting together with loved ones, perhaps jobs and income, and just general joy and certainty, and it is a heavy time.
It is important to allow yourself to feel some of these feelings. The only way to move through grief is to feel it. Can you set time aside to feel it? Allow yourself to feel it when it comes up?
Can you pay attention to what it feels like in your body?
Can you journal about what you have lost and what you are feeling? This is a hard time and giving yourself the space to honour your feelings and to feel them (and then to do joyous things if possible) is important.
Remind yourself that this isn’t forever
This seems to be a theme this year, but it can be helpful to remind ourselves that this won’t last. Not every holiday is going to be like this. Hopefully next year this time we will be able to breathe all over the people we love. Go to the odd holiday party. Maybe even be able to sweat on strangers at bars and clubs.
Do things that bring you joy
That is what the holidays are supposed to be about, after all. What brings you joy? Night time walks in the snow? Decorating a tree? Playing with animals or children? Singing? Spending time with loved ones (safely)? Can you write a list of things that bring you joy and commit to trying to do at least 3 of them over the holidays?
Obviously this year we have to get creative about how to connect with people we love and celebrate our traditions in new and different ways. Whether it means a gift scavenger hunt in the park, dinner together online, an xmas day bonfire, community meal drop-offs/exchange, or a wave and carol outside grandma’s nursing home window, finding new, safe ways to celebrate this holiday will be essential.
Rejoice in all the shit you don’t have to do
If you are someone, like me, who doesn’t love all aspects of the holiday, allow yourself some space to rejoice in what you don’t have to do. Less obligations, less busyness and running around, less spending, less ‘over-doing it’, less dividing of your time. There is a peacefulness in the slowing down and simplicity of this year that you are allowed to feel.
Spend less time on social media
This is just a great general rule for life, but especially around the holidays. If you are feeling sad, dysfunctional, or lonely, the last thing you need to look at is other people's perfectly staged Christmases in their matching pyjamas and yuletide bullshit.
Even though we know Karen from accounting's life is not that great, despite what she is trying to portray, it can be hard to have a critical lens when you are feeling vulnerable. Limit your time online to save yourself a bad case of the comparisons.
Give yourself permission not to break the bank
This goes for every year, but this year especially, as so many of us have lost income or are struggling financially. You don’t have to spend a ton on gifts this year. Or even do gifts. The holidays are not supposed to be about going into debt to give people material things to show your love. There are lots of ways to show your love, most of which don't actually involve much money.
Ask yourself, “why does this feel so important to me?”, “what would happen if I didn’t give gifts, or didn’t spend this much on gifts?” Often we just do it because we feel obligated, but when we stop and think about it, we realize the world probably won’t stop if we don’t give gifts (I mean, it more or less already is and I’m pretty sure it’s not because you didn’t give gifts).
If you really want to give a gift, can you make something, do something for someone, plan an outing or experience together when it is safe to do so, cook for someone, or even just write a nice card telling them all the things you love about them?
It is also okay to ask people to not exchange gifts this year and if they don't want to, let them know that you will not be buying any gifts (because of your anti-capitalist views, the decline of the earth due to commercialism and greed, your own financial reasons, etc.).
Sometimes it feels really shitty to have people give you gifts without having anything to give, but remember your reasons and stand strong. Remind yourself that that is not the reason for the season. Who knows, maybe next year the no gift giving will catch on.
Whatever your holiday looks like this year, may you find some moments of peace, joy, and gratitude. Here’s to a better 2021.