This holiday season is unlike any before, and it leaves many people feeling unsure about how to get into the holiday spirit. It's not unusual for many people to find this time of year overwhelming, but this year has a whole new flavor of strange. How can we take care of ourselves now that some of the go-to holiday stress relievers like the ever-popular ugly Christmas sweater party are now health hazards? While self-care is really a daily endeavor, here are a couple of reminders to help anyone get through the next few weeks and still sustain some holiday cheer.
Having uncomfortable conversations
Many people are finding they need to have uncomfortable conversations about what their plans will be for the season. When having these conversations about staying away from social gatherings, try to leave any judgement you may have aside. Judgement frequently is a projection of our own fear. It's also best to be direct and to the point. Uncle Bob does not need to know you think he is selfish for continuing his weekly poker game even if you think it's reckless. All he needs to know is you won't be able to go to his house for the annual family gift exchange.
Another tool for a more effective conversation is to lead with your feelings about the person you are declining the invite from. Mention the fact that you will miss being physically present, and wish you could attend, but this year it is just not possible.
Take your mental health temperature
It is crucial to pay attention to the signs your body is giving you about your stress levels. Physical sensations of stress appear before a conscious thought. People who have a regular meditation practice excel at this, but that doesn't mean you need to sit in a lotus position every day for 20 minutes to learn your body's signals. Close your eyes throughout the day and check in. Feel the sensations in your body is there tension in your shoulders? Butterflies in your stomach? Increased heart rate? All of these signs are indicators that you are feeling the effects of stress. Before you find yourself snapping at a friend or falling into an anxious spiral of negative self-talk you can disrupt the pattern and look for something to calm yourself down.
The funny thing about acceptance is that it is counter intuitive. The trick is acceptance does not mean liking, choosing, or giving up. Think of accepting as a decision to stop fighting. Not only does it cause undue suffering, but it also takes up an incredible amount of mental energy. In the moment of acceptance, we cease to struggle, and the pain is alleviated. It is in this space where our minds are less taxed that we can begin to think of solutions or make changes to improve the situation.
The fact is, the COVID-19 pandemic has made this year different. That familiar electricity in the air when people buzz around the town may not be there this year. It's okay to feel sad about that. If we can accept that things will feel different, we can look for ways to find joy in what we do have. When we can find a way to make peace with reality, we can move forward.
Now more than ever it is blatantly obvious that much of what we love about the holidays is based on connection with those we love. Find ways to have shared experiences from afar.
Try making a family recipe on the same day as another relative, and then enjoy eating it together over a video chat. Even better, try sending some holiday cheer through the mail to one another and connect over a video call to share how it turned out. Even if the gingerbread man gets decapitated, it at least makes for a funny conversation and a good Instagram story.
Look for ways to shake up video conference calls to make them more interactive. Think of an icebreaker that will engage everyone on the call such as having everyone share a favorite holiday family story or sharing what they miss most about getting together this year. Another option might be to throw together a slide show of holidays past and use the screen share to view it together.
While this may not be the familiar type of holiday season many of us have come to look forward to over the years, all is not lost. It takes a lot of self-care and a good look at what it is about the holidays that is special for you. Honoring how you feel, and your personal boundaries will make all the difference. Revamping old traditions to fit social distancing guidelines is inevitably going to be a memorable experience. Strange as it may be, this is probably the most historic holiday season you've ever lived through. Make some good stories for future generations.
Adam Ouanes is a Chicago-based, licensed social worker with The Juniper Center, a premier counseling center providing the area's LGBTQ community expert, individualized care by 40 clinicians in five Chicagoland locations and throughout the state of Illinois.