If you look forward to this season every year, not being able to see your family or participate in beloved traditions for the first time ever this year might seem devastating. We might all be feeling utterly exhausted from 2020’s chaos - and trust us, we’re right there with you. With vaccines finally being administered, we can start to see the hope of attending ugly sweater parties and frying latkes together by the end of 2021. That’s still a year away, so what can we do right now to make the most of this stay-at-home holiday? We’ve got some ideas!
Create time to connect - even when you don’t want to
We know - if one more article tells you to host Zoom get-togethers, you might just lose it. Video chat fatigue is real: we don’t blame you one bit if you’re tired of hearing about how important it is to connect digitally with loved ones when in-person hangouts are off the table. The trouble is that when we feel isolated, our instincts often push us into further isolation. When we’re feeling lonely or sad, often the last thing we want to do is to reach out to someone to talk about it; but these are the times in which it’s most important to do so. Perpetuated isolation can lead to much more troubling consequences such as depression - and even suicidality in more severe situations.
To be clear, it’s absolutely okay to let yourself feel all of your feelings - not just the good ones. Loneliness at any time of year is challenging. Your feelings of sadness are absolutely valid. Try to let go of any guilt attached to your emotions - your suffering isn’t “less than'' anyone else’s, despite any global catastrophes going on. Though you can't always control your feelings, you can, however, control how you react to them. Learn to set aside time to grieve whatever it is (or who) you’re missing this year and process these difficult emotions. Next, set a deadline for moving forward and taking action by reaching out to a loved one. Of course, it won’t be the same as seeing them in person, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
Create new traditions
Though we might not consciously realize it, most of us love the predictability of a black-and-white mentality. This is simply the common fallacy of convincing ourselves we only have two options - e.g.) we need to be in-person to have a good holiday, and if we’re physically distanced, our holiday break is going to be bad. The reality is that life is just not that simple - we usually have more choices than we realize, and just need to adjust our expectations a bit. All-or-nothing thinking can cause more grief than relief by making an already-hard situation even harder.
Try to let go of the idea that because your options are more limited this year, you can’t possibly be satisfied with how your celebrations turn out. It’s okay to be sad about not being able to follow certain traditions, but really try to believe that you can still find some joy in this season in new ways. Think about the specific things you love about this time of year - is it the food? Or connecting with loved ones? Try to create a new tradition around what you love to do. It could be a cookie decorating contest or ranking Hallmark Christmas Movies on a scale of Pretty Corny to Corniest of All Time. If you’re spending the holidays alone, make plans with a friend to buy all the ingredients for a new recipe or festive cocktail (or mocktail!) and make and enjoy them together while on a video call. As unsettling as it can feel, when we’re forced to find joy in new ways and break out of old routines, we open the door for new experiences that can feel even more special and memorable than we could have imagined.
...and remember the meaning behind old ones
With the modern-day introduction of retail holidays like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reasons we celebrate so-called “giving holidays” in the first place. Hint: it’s supposed to be about spreading joy and giving back to others, not reaching sales goals. During these strange and difficult times, reflect on how you can give back to your community. Winter is always one of the hardest times of year for many - and for much of our world it’s tougher than ever (i.e. job insecurity and lack of childcare). Maybe think about dedicating some of the money you would have spent on visiting your family cross-country or cooking a huge dinner to supporting a local charity - or spending an afternoon sorting through old clothes to donate to a shelter. Maybe you drop off homemade cookies at your neighbor’s house, pick up your elderly mom’s drycleaning when you normally wouldn’t, or offer to do a grocery run for the chaos-in-motion family next door. Not only does giving back to others bring you more joy - it brightens someone else’s day too and unites us as a community. And during a year like this, who doesn’t need a little more of that?
Don’t forget to rest
If you’re spending the holidays at home rather than darting from dinner party to light festival to holiday recital, you might be putting in extra social efforts to ensure you’re doing “enough” to entertain yourself, your family, or your bubble. Remember - you can still burn yourself out from the comforts of home. Be strict with yourself in making sure you carve out time to rest, relax, and recharge. Even if you’ve jam-packed your holiday schedule with safe yet fun festivities, make room for at least 15-30 minutes a day of self-care time just for you. Maybe this is just scrolling your phone, talking with your partner distraction-free, or simply putting on a podcast or TV show and vegging out.
Be patient with yourself
Finally, accept the reality that sometimes you’re just in a bad mood. You might have tried everything in the book to cheer yourself up, and still find yourself feeling irritable. It happens, and it’s totally okay – don’t blame yourself if you can’t seem to shake it off. Do what you can to distract yourself and fill the time (e.g.binging your go-to comfort show or doing a meditative activity like crafting), and remember that it will pass. Focus your attention on making sure your basic needs are met – sleep, food, and movement – and show yourself some kindness and patience. If you’re feeling like you’re really struggling with your mental health and the grey, cloudy skies just won’t seem to clear day after day, reach out to a loved one, counsellor, or crisis line.
Lastly, if you aren’t spending this holiday season alone, spend some time thinking about who out of those that you know will be by themselves, and reach out to them, too. You can even check out our tips for ways to check-in with your loved ones that are more meaningful than a “how are you?” here.
To read more about Amira Health’s counselling services, click here.
Crisis Services Canada: 1 833 456 4566
Youthspace.ca Text/IM Emotional Support & Crisis Chat (for under 30 y/o): go to youthspace.ca or text 778-783-0177 6pm-midnight PST
BC-Wide Mental Health Support: 310-6789
Toronto Distress Centre: 416-408-HELP (4357)