Dealing With the Holiday Season During a Pandemic

Randi Rotwein-Pivnick, M.A., LMFT

In my last post I mentioned that I had been working from home remotely since March and never imagined that the pandemic would have impacted our world as it has.

Personally, I don’t know of anyone that has not been impacted negatively in some way or other from COVID-19, and with all the current uncertainty I doubt we will return to ‘normal’ (whatever that might look like), anytime soon. It is of utmost importance, to do what we need to do to stay safe, but we also need to make every effort possible to maintain some sense of ‘normalcy’ in our lives. Each and every person I have spoken to has said the same thing – no one knows when we will have a cure and/or be able to roam our world safely in the manner we did less than a year ago. Therefore, it is important to do whatever you can do to focus on the things you CAN control and create a consistent sense of ‘normalcy’, no matter how small that might be or what it looks like for you compared to others. And, with the holiday season upon us, it is extremely important to stay connected as so many will be feeling the negative impact of the pandemic now more than ever, as a result of not being able to follow through with their traditional holiday celebrations.

Three, rather simple things you can do to maintain a sense of normalcy in your life are to create routines, set (realistic) goals, and most importantly, stay connected with the important people in your life, even if that means doing so virtually via computer or via telephone.

Staying connected with the people that are important to you should be high on your priority list, even if you don’t feel much like talking to or ‘seeing’ anyone. It is this continual connectivity that will help us to push through the rough times and create some sense of normalcy when nothing at all seems like it used to be. Fortunately, most people have cell phones that allow for unlimited long distance calling (can you imagine if COVID happened when we only had landlines and had to pay each time we made a long distance call??!!!).  Additionally, most of us have access to a computer, which enables us to contact people utilizing our computers and see them on our screens in real time.  Although this is not exactly the same as in-person contact, it will still give you the sense of connection and allow you to actually see the people you are needing/wanting to connect with.  I was recently able to virtually ‘attend’ a family wedding on another coast with the aid of technology. That would have never been possible prior to COVID as there would have been no need for them to even consider offering that as an option.  Although it was not the same as being there, it allowed me to see loved ones that I haven’t seen in over a year and to also ‘participate’ in this joyous occasion.

With the holidays fast approaching, many are apprehensive about how they will celebrate this year.  It’s not just about the concern from the pandemic and it’s lingering effects, but many are struggling financially as a result of the pandemic, which will impact the manner in which they celebrate (or don’t celebrate) the holidays. Now, more than ever, you are going to want/need to connect with your loved ones and other important people in your life.  Unfortunately, many people will not be able to have their normal holiday ‘traditions’ as a result of the pandemic and the restrictions that have been put in place by our states as well as the restrictions we have put upon ourselves in our attempts to stay COVID free.  However, that doesn’t mean you have to skip the holidays, nor do you have to be disconnected. I have been encouraging my clients to start to think about tangible and realistic ways to have meaningful experiences this year, even though they may be different from anything previously experienced. Now is the perfect time to get creative and experiment with new traditions.

Some of you may still be planning on traveling to be with family and friends, and some are still planning on gathering in groups to celebrate together.  Others are opting out of travel and/or gathering with others, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip the holidays and/or disconnect from everyone.   There are ways to continue your Holiday traditions with a few ‘tweaks’ to keep you ‘safe’.  And, although you may be feeling disappointed that you can’t celebrate in your traditional manner, try to look at this as an opportunity to be creative and also to make new traditions. It may also be a perfect opportunity to slow down, and scale back on the craziness you are typically surrounded by during the holidays.

Clearly, the lowest risk ‘celebration’ would be to stay home and surround yourself with those who have been in your ‘bubble’; the people you are with in your home on a daily basis. Taking short trips by car with members of your household with no stops along the way is one low risk option.  Perhaps arranging to do a “ZOOM gathering” with the people you would typically be with during the holidays, is a way to stay safe and still ‘be’ with those you love (there are a multitude of virtual platforms that enable you to see others in real time and many are free).

Regardless of how you are choosing to spend your holidays this year, be aware that not everyone is necessarily on the same page as you with regards to comfort level and beliefs about COVID-19. It is important for you to maintain your own values and not be coerced into doing things that make you feel uncomfortable/unsafe.  By the same token, if someone has a different belief system, that does not mean you can’t connect during the holidays. It simply means that you may have to make some compromises to accommodate people’s comfort levels.  Work to have open dialogue so that all participating can be comfortable and enjoy. Come up with a plan that is agreeable and manageable.

Certainly, for many of us, the holidays are going to be different this year, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun and rewarding.  Get creative and get connected!

Stay safe, be respectful of other’s boundaries and Happy Holidays!