Coping Through the Holidays in a Pandemic

Tips for beating stress and loneliness in challenging times

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Americans were reporting feeling lonely or being worried about a family member suffering loneliness even before the social isolation of the pandemic. Now the holidays are upon us amid new CDC guidelines that ask people to avoid travel and gathering with others outside their extended family.

This strange and difficult situation we find ourselves in threatens to leave more people feeling isolated and lonely. Many people are also coping with feelings of grief due to losing a loved one to the pandemic or other causes in the past year.

It’s always hard to face the first Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s without a beloved family member or friend. It will be even more challenging this year as many people choose to stay at home and gather only with those in their households. What about those who live alone?

Even before the pandemic, the holidays were fraught with emotion and difficulty for many people. Unresolved issues between family members and emotional baggage from past disputes can color our view of the holidays and leave us feeling tense, upset and easily exhausted.

Even during the best of times, the holidays can be stressful and disruptive to your body, your emotions, and your routines. So how can we manage feelings of stress, isolation, and loneliness during holidays that are bound to be different from those of past years?

Although many challenges we face during this season of pandemic are different from those of the past, the best ways to cope have not changed. Take steps to guard your emotional, mental, and physical health. Here are some ideas to help make your holidays less stressful and more joyful:

1. Decide ahead to be flexible about your expectations. Everyone else has expectations and sometimes they won’t match with yours. Plan for spontaneity. You’ll have more fun as everyone shares ideas and activities.

2. Be aware of what your body needs. This includes healthy food, plenty of water, rest, and exercise. Don’t throw your routines out the window just because of the holidays. Find a way to exercise so you’ll feel good. At holiday meals, share stories so you’re talking more and eating slowly. Enjoy salad so you’ll fill up on live food instead of the sugary desserts. Avoid binging and limit yourself to a few treats. You’ll feel better about yourself if you’re taking care of your body!

3. Decide to take care of yourself emotionally. You may need specific things such as the emotional support of a spouse, a long phone call with a friend, or even just some time alone. Decide how busy you want to be and how thin you want to spread yourself with shopping, decorating, and other holiday responsibilities, and don’t push yourself beyond what feels comfortable to you.

4. Communicate with love. If you’re feeling stressed about family interactions, step outside for a few minutes to get some fresh air. This is a better solution than eating another piece of pumpkin pie and will be easier to live with later. Be kind to everyone — including yourself!

5. Reach out to friends. Even in times of social distancing you can stay in touch with friends and loved ones by phone or video chat. You may even find you can connect more deeply in a one-on-one conversation than you can in a group. Make plans in advance to get in touch with those you care about so you’ll have things to look forward to.

6. Take time to set goals and plan for the New Year. Many of us tend to set large, far-reaching goals. These can be exciting and motivating, and they should be! The trick is to make a plan for how you will realistically accomplish them. If your overall goal is to lose 20 pounds, how will you do it? Set a completion date. Break it into smaller milestones by the month, week and day.

7. Give thanks for all that is good in your life. When we think about what is good in our lives, we create joy. Counting our blessings literally generates the energetic frequencies that can lift us up, and encourage those around us. Gratitude can strengthen us through times of trial, and gives us hope and joy we can spread to others

We have lived through an enormously difficult year with the pandemic and its social and economic hardships, a bitter election, and racial and political division. Some of us have also faced great personal losses. Focusing on gratitude, and what we have gained through difficult times, will make us stronger and more resilient.

This Thanksgiving, and through the New Year, may you search for and find many blessings that will give you joy, hope and strength in the days to come.

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