As we’re entering December, it’s hard to imagine that it’s been 8 months since this all began. Sometimes I look back, and I think to myself, “wow, the summer flew by,” and then other times it feels like days are dragging on forever. Time is a funny thing, especially when there is no real end in sight. I feel this at camp, with summer camp having been cancelled this year, and missing so many campers, families, and staff. I also feel it deeply in my personal life.
Lately, Christmas has become my chosen ‘landmark’ or ‘milestone.’ Something to look forward to, to hold onto. I keep hoping that Christmas, when it finally arrives, will fill the gaps I’ve been feeling in my life since March. I hope that it will give me some sense of normalcy. Basically, I’ve made this holiday very important in my mind, and now it feels like a lot is riding on Christmas. Relatable?
But the reality is, Christmas is not a magical fix-all for what is happening. There are many people who know this to be true outside of the pandemic: folks who have experienced a loss and feel the empty space left by their loved one extra hard during the holidays; people whose families are divided, physically or emotionally; those who are used to living in isolation; those who struggle to make ends meet; those living through illness.
Even for those of us who are lucky to have evaded those experiences, Christmas this year may not be easy. You might have seen a headline or read an article this year about “collective grief”– even if we have not lost someone close to us in the pandemic, or experienced economic upheaval, we are all grieving important routines, traditions, and time spent with those we hold dear. In this way, Christmas is another area that may bring up feelings of loss. For many of us, going home for the holidays is not a viable or safe option. Visits that would normally be comfortable and casual will still be masked and distanced. There are people we’re longing to see and places we yearn to visit, but they will still be out of reach for the time being.
You might be thinking “this all sounds kind of sad.” And you know what? It is! And that’s okay. It is okay if you have not-so-great feelings about Christmas this year, and any year. In fact, it’s more than okay to experience sadness, disappointment, emptiness, overwhelm, frustration, anger, loneliness, stress, anxiety- it’s normal. This is an extra weird and hard year. Your brain and body are just having a natural response to some very complex grief. If you find yourself trying to bury these feelings, remember that a) they make sense, and b) that you are not alone.
This is not an exhaustive list, but here are a five ways to navigate tense or heavy feelings around the holiday season:
1. Make a plan: There is really only some much we can control right now, but one thing you can do is communicate in advance with your loved ones about how things will look this year. Will you do a gift exchange by mail? A zoom dinner? A distanced visit? Make these plans ahead of time for safe but meaningful interactions!
2. Make a list of things you are excited about: Making and eating a yummy festive dinner? Your fave Christmas music and movies? A bit of time to just relax? Giving someone a heartfelt gift? Even if things are different this year, there are still concrete things to look forward to! A Charlie Brown Christmas anyone?
3. Practice Gratitude: Research shows that identifying and meditating on what you are grateful for on a regular basis helps build resilience and is good for your health! What are all the things you’re thankful for as of late? Challenge yourself to make as long a list as possible, to start listing things each day in the morning or evening; pray a prayer of thankfulness- you’ll find it makes a huge difference!
4.Be kind to yourself: No matter how you’re dealing, however imperfectly, know that it is understandable. Remind yourself that everyone is going through this (whether they let you see it or not), and try to be patient with yourself on bad days. Most of all, talk to yourself with a voice of acceptance and compassion:
- Instead of, “Everyone else seems to be doing fine”, try “I know I’m not alone in this, even if it feels like it some days”
- Instead of “I don’t usually feel like this, something must be wrong with me,” try “Of course I feel this way. Everything is upside-down!”
- Instead of “Many people have it worse, I should be happy,” try “I can recognize that I have a lot to be grateful for & that my feelings are still valid- there is room for both”
5.Give yourself space to process: Maybe this looks like carving out alone time, time to be quiet and think, time to pray. Maybe it means scheduling a call with a close friend or family member. Maybe it means connecting with a counselor or therapist (would highly recommend!). These are all courageous and healthy responses to processing the inevitable feelings that come with such a challenging year.
I pray you have a safe, meaningful Christmas season, whichever way it looks for you! Take care of yourself and those you love, savour the little awesome moments, and remember- we are all in this together and things WILL get better.