The holidays are meant to be a time of joy and cheer–but amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, kicking off this year’s festive season will look different for many of us, and that may include a higher-than-usual level of stress.
In a year like no other, families can’t all be together–whether that’s because plane travel poses a risk of infection to travelers, or elderly and immune-compromised relatives are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus. Thanksgiving is often recognized as a time for gratitude, but it can be tough to feel appreciative given all of the disruption and devastation of 2020. And you’re not alone.
Even before this year ushered in a pandemic, economic crisis, and onslaught of anxiety-inducing news, the holidays were stressful; according to a 2006 survey by the American Psychological Association, 38 percent of people said their stress levels increase during the holidays. In a Healthline poll, 62 percent say they find the holidays at least “somewhat stressful.” And according to a 2020 survey, more than half of Americans feel more financially stressed about the holidays this year than they did last year.
So how can you cope with stressors amid a holiday season filled with unprecedented challenges?
Reflect on what you’re comfortable with in regards to family gathering or holiday plans after weighing the risks and benefits of your holiday options given your personal COVID-19 considerations. For example, consider the vulnerabilities of people you’d be visiting against the benefit of being together in person.
Lyra’s Clinical Head of Partnerships, Joe Grasso, PhD, recommends reframing this choice. “It’s not about whether or not you’re celebrating with your family, but rather about taking everyone’s safety into account,” he says. “Remember that you can still connect and celebrate with loved ones at a physical distance, if that’s what you choose.”
Once you decide what you’re comfortable with, communicate that with your loved ones. Remember to avoid putting others’ preferences above your own needs. Having boundaries doesn’t have to mean hurting your relationships, and maintaining boundaries is especially vital during this pandemic. If you decide not to join, acknowledge and validate other family members’ preferences, let them know you share the same desire to be together (if that’s true), but that the decision you’ve made is what you need. Tell them the reasons behind your decision, and emphasize that while you’re standing firm on that, you still want to connect.
“A lot of our stress during the holidays can come from the ‘shoulds’– our expectation of what the holidays should look like, how we should feel, and what we should be doing to celebrate,” says Grasso. “But often those expectations can set us up for unhelpful anxiety and unneeded disappointment when things don’t look picture-perfect.”
Not everyone feels joyful or festive during the holidays. Not everyone wants to be with their family. And not everyone can spend lavish amounts of money on gifts, travel, or holiday meals. Especially this year, try readjusting your expectations and instead of letting Hallmark or social media dictate how you should be feeling or spending the holidays, recognize that everyone is different. Fantastical media portrayals of the holidays are just that: fantasies, not most people’s realities.
In actuality, there is no right or wrong way to feel or to mark the holidays, and no need to be dominated by “shoulds.”
Instead of lamenting the ways this holiday season may be tougher than usual, take a look at the bigger picture and think about what you want out of the holidays. Consider what they mean to you, both in the short term and in regards to how they connect to your values. Is it about time spent with loved ones? Is it the hours spent remembering and reminiscing? Are the holidays a time to prioritize fun and celebration?
When you know what the big picture is and why the holidays are important to you, then you can find ways to adapt your plan of action to live up to your values. For example, if celebration and connection are your values, but you can’t meet in person, remember that you can still cook, eat a meal, and play games with loved ones–even if it’s at a distance. It may take some adapting and creativity, but even when the circumstances aren’t ideal, you can still channel the holiday spirit–whatever that means to you.
As with all advice, managing stress may sound easier said than done, especially if the unprecedented challenges of this year’s holiday season has you feeling down. Take a deep breath and connect with your values before choosing your next move–and remember that it takes practice.
If you want help connecting with a therapist, Lyra can assist you. You can get started today if Lyra is offered by your employer. Sign up now.
The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daisy Quaker is a freelance digital content marketer living in Duluth, MN. She helps startups and brands tell compelling stories about how they make our world better. Her interests include health and wellness, travel, and mindful living. Find her on LinkedIn.