Managing Feelings Around the Holidays

Holidays tend to be a time of tradition. Company holiday parties, cookie making and Christmas tree decorating with family, dreidel playing and latke eating with friends, singing and dancing for Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve parties with family and friends. Everyone has their own set of traditions and while these traditions may typically evolve or change over time due to aging, changing family dynamics, relocations and other factors, it is seeming that 2020 is responsible for more changes than usual as it relates to December’s traditions. As a result of travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders in response to COVID-19, more people than ever before are finding it unlikely they’ll have the opportunity to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve like they usually would. Family reunions may be happening over Zoom rather than at Grandma’s house and New Year’s Eve may be spent quietly instead of in a crowded restaurant or bar like last year. For others, the holiday season may be different for other reasons. While the holiday season is typically depicted as a time of cheer, for many the holidays actually trigger very difficult emotions to cope with such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. When seemingly everyone else has traditions to attend to, those without them tend to feel more alone than ever. Holidays can also bring up difficult memories while also introducing new family conflicts. With a welcomed excuse for not attending family gatherings this year, some may be experiencing a sense of relief at the uprooting of typical traditions. Either way, it is apparent that many people are adjusting to acceptance of a December that looks and feels differently than others. 

For many months now, we have been making similar adjustments as we navigate a pandemic-ridden reality. This article from our blog speaks about the experience of collective grief and serves as another relevant read at this time. Though we have been grieving for months now, it is not unlikely that you may be experiencing heightened emotions at this time. This is true for many different reasons. Many people are experiencing what is being referred to as “pandemic fatigue”, which is explained nicely in this article, which also explains some helpful tips on ways to combat this fatigue. Another reason why you may be experiencing heightened emotions at this time, if you are living in a part of the country with a cold winter, could be related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. I recently wrote a blog about SAD, which may be helpful to refer to if you are suspecting you may be struggling with it. Lastly, as described earlier, December is a time filled with many holidays and traditions, so the contrast between this December and those prior may be more obvious than it has been in other months, and therefore triggering stronger feelings of loss. 

Here are a few suggestions on ways to manage your feelings surrounding this year’s holiday season and hopefully have a safe and happy December. 

  1. Talk about it with family and friends. You are almost definitely not the only person in your circle struggling to adjust to this year’s circumstances and speaking about it can instantly relieve you of some of your anxiety about the uncertainty or sadness about the situation. Your friends or family may be able to validate your feelings which will help you feel less alone. 
  2. Seek out professional support. If you are already in therapy, bring this up in conversation and explore your feelings surrounding the changes. If you are not already in therapy, consider reaching out to a therapist at Gateway to Solutions for a free phone consultation. 
  3. Practice gratitude. Despite the disappointment you may be feeling, there is likely a lot to be grateful for as well. Gratitude is proven to improve mood, decrease stress, among many other health benefits. Reminding yourself that there are things to be grateful for, and expressing this gratitude outwardly when it relates to others, will likely help get you into the holiday spirit. Check out this blog for more on gratitude during uncertain times.
  4. Create new traditions/honor old traditions in a new way. This year presents as an opportunity to create some new traditions. Consider a virtual Secret Santa with whoever you usually spend the holiday with, wherein each person is tasked with sending a gift to someone else by a certain date, at which point everyone will open each other’s presents over Zoom. Perhaps you and a family member can create a shared family recipe together via video chat. Remember that creating new traditions does not have to replace old ones, but rather can be creative ways to modify old traditions to fit the current times. Additionally, maybe you can celebrate the holidays with your roommates because none of you are traveling elsewhere and this can be really meaningful for you all, and something else to be grateful for!
  5. Giving back. Look into opportunities to give back this holiday season. Many small businesses  and restaurants are struggling this year and giving back can be a meaningful way to give this holiday season. Consider ordering in from your favorite restaurant to support them while simultaneously enjoying a delicious meal, or consider making a donation to an organization like ROAR NY, which provides relief to restaurant workers. 

Wishing you all a safe and special holiday season and Happy New Year! 

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