Pandemic Holidays: Different Doesn’t Have to be Bad

By Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco

This year has altered our lives in too many ways to count. The holidays in 2020 are sure to be impacted as well. With COVID restrictions, many of us will not be able to travel or gather safely. Traditions may not happen in the same way. For some there have been very real losses of family and friends, employment or financial insecurity, and estrangements over politics. Regardless of the reasons, this holiday season will likely present significant challenges at the end of an already challenging year.

Identify your Feelings: It is likely that you are more emotional than usual. Start by taking some quiet moments and sorting through the many emotions you are having. Try to identify what the exact emotions are and where they are coming from. You may be surprised to find that some of your emotions aren’t actually connected to the holidays, but are tied to other aspects of 2020.

Acknowledge your Losses: Whether it is loss of people in your life, financial security, freedom to gather/travel, routines like going into an office or participating in sports, or just a general sense of safety in the world, it is critical that you take some time and recognize what you have lost and how you’re feeling about it. It does not help to deny the significance of these losses, though once you have acknowledged your feelings, don’t get stuck dwelling on them.

Resist Romanticizing Past Holidays: It is normal to have an idealized vision of what the holidays are like. But if we are honest with ourselves it isn’t all wonderful. There is a lot of normal stress associated with our typical holidays; financial strain, relationship tension, an overwhelming number of additional chores, and trying to make things perfect. Too often, we try to make ourselves and others happy with material things. For some there are struggles with spending, food, alcohol and unhealthy relationships. Be realistic about the holidays.

Focus on What Is Really Important: Stop and take a moment to think about what is truly meaningful for you at this time of year. It may be family, but only certain ones. Maybe friends are higher on your list than family. Are the spiritual roots of the holidays the most important parts? Does charity figure heavily into what’s important to you? Maybe what you love best is having some time off for relaxation? How can you safely engage in what is most meaningful to you? Try to think outside the box. Come back to this when you lose focus.

Look for the Good: With so much negative noise in 2020, it is sometimes hard to hear the good. Turn down the television. Step away from your social media. Go outside and take a deep breath. Now, think of one thing that you are grateful for. Maybe it is small, like the smell of clean sheets. Maybe it is big, like having a safe home to shelter in. It could be a friend who checks in on you. Or it could be that you are grateful you are in a position to support someone else. Though you may have never planned to work from home, maybe you’re grateful to not have to fight traffic or pay for gas commuting to an office. If you’re a front line worker, while it is stressful, you may be grateful to be able to make a huge difference in the lives of so many vulnerable people. Your children could be sad about not attending school or activities, but they may appreciate slowing down and family time. Or maybe you’re just thankful for comfortable slippers, sweatpants and Netflix. Whatever it is for you, try to find the good.

Control What you Can Control: Keep in mind that you do indeed have control over many aspects of what your holidays will look like. This may be a chance to let go of the parts of the holidays you don’t like; cut out the traditions that don’t work for you. This may be the excuse you need to take a break from unhealthy relationships. You have control over how you wrap up 2020.
Be aware of your self-care. Especially this year, when emotions are running high, be sure to be on top of eating, sleeping, hydrating, and getting some time moving outdoors. Don’t
underestimate the value of taking a few deep breaths and doing some brief meditation. Many guided meditations are available free in apps or online. Set budgets for spending. Limit drugs and alcohol. Many support groups are now available online. If you are struggling, reach out to a psychologist or your family physician for help. Keep up good boundaries with others. Be aware of a tendency you may have to try to make others happy by forgoing your boundaries. It is ok to say no. If some family or friends challenge you, find ways to connect safely. Avoid hot-button topics or engage in structured activities with individuals that you may clash with.
Find connection. If you’re alone, the end of the year gives you the opportunity to engage in some serious self care and restoration. Consider pushing outside your comfort zone and reaching out to others you’d like to be closer to. So many people are wishing for more connection this year. Religious institutions are offering community, even if virtually. Many online groups offer connection, as well. Volunteering to help others will help you meet likeminded folks.
Different doesn’t have to be bad. If your loved ones are apart and you’re dreading another Zoom gathering, add some fun with competition. Who can make the best decorated cake, wreath, gingerbread house, cookies, or ugly sweater? Whose menorah made from things around the house does everyone like best? Which household can win the viral Tik Tok dance off? Play games over technology. If family is near by, do a socially-distant potluck. Have each household cook a dish and drop off portions on each other’s porches. Then zoom in and enjoy together. Traditionally, many families are so busy they rarely spend a lot of time talking during the holidays. This year, each member can take turns telling stories about the past or sharing their hopes and prayers for the new year. Maybe your loved ones can do a craft together over Zoom which they donate to a charitable organization. If we get lucky with mild weather, take a family walk or gather safely outside around a fire pit. Lastly, who says you cannot celebrate your holiday at a different time of year? Why not plan to have a holiday do-over as soon as it is safe to do so? Kwanza part two in February? Christmas or Hanukkah repeat in March? It may not be the same, but it can still be good and incorporate those parts of the holidays that you love the most.

With so much of the world feeling out of our control, if we acknowledge our feelings and shift our focus to what is important and positive, while taking good care of ourselves, we can take control of our holidays and have a meaningful end of 2020.

Dr. Christina Carson-Sacco is a clinical psychologist and a partner with The Center for Neuropsychology and Counseling, P.C. with offices in Warrington and Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania. She is available for public speaking and consultation. To learn more about her practice visit

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