At the beginning of this year, many of us would have never imagined that 2020 would have brought us the COVID-19 global pandemic, caustic conversations about race and racism, violent murders, children learning remotely, working from home, social isolation and widespread job loss. This year, more than ever before in our lives, we experienced stressful times because there were so many issues and events that were out of our control and happening all at once.
Even without the issues brought about by COVID-19, racism and the election, we still faced ongoing interpersonal conflicts, financial pressures as well as disappointments and expectations regarding family.
Now in the midst of the holiday season, at the close of this tumultuous year, there are the added pressures of trying to figure out how to balance safety measures and a shaky economy with organizing – or at least reimagining — holiday celebrations and giving gifts under these unprecedented circumstances. Most of us are experiencing some version or a combination of these stresses in our lives.
Here are some tips to help your through this holiday season.
1. Be courageous and set realistic expectations. Exercise restraint and discipline this holiday season rather than going through extraordinary efforts to recreate childhood memories (what we used to do). Don’t stretch your budgets thin buying things you don’t need or can’t afford. Don’t pay to access experiences that are beyond your budget and don’t empty the coffers creating situations that are beyond your means. Focus this year instead on creating less stress by only accomplishing what is possible. Don’t go overboard trying to achieve the impossible.
2. Control of your thoughts and emotions. There are so many things in life that we cannot change — from being exposed to COVID to the drama of family and friends. But we can change and control the way we think and the way we feel. Turn lemons into lemonade; see the cup half-full rather than half-empty. Try to maintain an attitude of gratitude.
3. Develop a self-care plan. Okay, this might sound challenging, but it’s really not. Make a schedule with set time frames to wake up and sleep. Eat healthy at least once a day, spend 20 minutes outdoors, meditate, figure out a time to laugh and do something for just you. Keep your plan simple so you can succeed.
4. Be honest about your feelings. During these times, it is really important to be able to know HOW you feel about this time of the year and the people and events that are attached to the season. You may feel sadness or grief due to losses such as deaths, distance from family, or loss of loved ones due to sickness, separation or divorce. With these memories and feelings, it is healthier to stay in the present and try to imagine and create new experiences during the holidays, even with COVID.
5. Avoid toxic people and situations. During the holidays, old family conflicts, resentments and feelings crop up. Consider limiting your time with family you know trigger those feelings. Avoid topics that will agitate you or other family members. Set clear boundaries. Keep your distance and balance YOUR needs with that of your family (remember self-care first!).
6. Put your own mask on first! Prioritize your health and safety. Take care of yourself first in every way – physically and mentally. Do something special for you. You will feel better about yourself.
7. Remind yourself about the true meaning of the holidays. If you are lonely, try volunteering or attend a support group. Many of them are online.
8. Watch or monitor what you eat and drink. Avoid overeating for comfort or not eating enough because you’re worried about weight again. Also, avoid drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol whether you’re alone or in the company of loved ones.
9. Look positively to the future. Above all, be reminded that this stressful time will pass. Take a deep breath and imagine the good things that lie ahead for you in the new year. Envision it and plan accordingly.
Lenore A. Tate, PhD, is a Licensed Psychologist/Professional Consultant based in Sacramento.