We are about to embark on the weirdest holiday season in recent memory.

We know Ralphie, no one wants to hear it!

Even after celebrating the bulk of the holidays of 2020 under a COVID cloud, this feels different. We are staring down over a month’s worth of activities and traditions that have to be altered or scrapped altogether due to the virus. From Thanksgiving to New Years’ our holiday season is going to look different, which is yet another challenge that we have to deal with.

This time of year brings along with it a variety of emotions. The holidays can be a time that is both highly anticipated and full of dread. It’s a celebration of togetherness but also highlights loneliness. It is the harbinger of joy, yet also brings along with it deep sadness and grief. And, this was without the addition of a worldwide pandemic.

“Don we now our gay apparel…”

Have we bummed you out yet? Well, here comes the good news. This year doesn’t have to be all gloom and doom.

Here’s the bright side to a COVID-style holiday season, smaller celebrations mean fewer arguments about politics, masks, and football. It means being able to legitimately avoid that one holiday party you never enjoyed. It means no marathon airport layovers or sleeping on an air mattress at your in-laws’ house. It means being able to be more present with your family instead of running around making sure that the food is replenished and Aunt Gladys’ wine glass is full. It provides an opportunity for new traditions and special memories. It also means spending less money. Who can’t get on board with that?

Because emotions are already complex this time of year, both mental health and medical experts are highlighting the importance of tending to your mental health as much as you do your physical wellbeing. You are probably already feeling overwhelmed by the never-ending news regarding COVID and all of the new and varying ways it will throw a monkey wrench into your day-to-day life. Add that to the normal holiday stress and, well, it’s all very 2020.

2020 can stop at ANYTIME

But…do not fear! You are not alone.

Here is some advice to help you get through this incredibly odd holiday season.

FEEL YOUR FEELINGS! If you feel robbed because you haven’t been able to see other humans in months, or you’re anxious about the people you love getting sick. If you’re stressed about the future or frustrated by the rules of COVID and dealing with a raging case of COVID fatigue; it’s all valid. Make sure that you share your feelings with the people who are close to you, and allow them to do the same. It is especially important to allow the children and teens in your life to express their feelings without having them diminished or ignored. Remember, most of us have never been through anything like this, so whatever you are feeling is normal. As normal as any of this is, anyway. Being able to accept your feelings as they come makes it easier to get through them and onto the other side so that you can enjoy your holidays.

It’s also important to be honest about holiday spending due to COVID. Financial stress is one of the biggest contributing factors to holiday anxiety and depression, and that’s on a normal year. With shutdowns, layoffs, furloughs, and unemployment in general, you may not be able to have the holidays that you or your family wanted. You can be realistic about expectations without feeling like you’re ruining the holiday. Just make sure that you have a budget in advance of any holiday spending to help alleviate that pressure.

This is not the preferred way to budget for the holidays

MAKE ALTERNATIVE PLANS IN ADVANCE. If you’re not over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house this year, make plans together for what you will do instead. You can do anything from a matching pajama morning where you eat a big breakfast, drink cocoa, and watch corny holiday movies to a DIY New Year’s Eve celebration with decorations and hats. This way everyone feels invested in the holidays, and the change of plans themselves feels special, instead of thrown together in a rush. This also helps alleviate any stress you may be feeling about trying to figure out what to do on your own.

You can find great ideas online. Hit up that friend who loves Pinterest and ask for suggestions, or even see what TikTok has to offer.

STAY PHYSICALLY HEALTHY. The hustle and bustle of the season is a huge contributor to non-COVID related illnesses. It’s important that you still get plenty of rest, try to refrain from overindulging in food and drink, sprinkle some healthy options into your holiday diet, exercise, and most importantly acknowledge when you are not feeling well. Even if you do not come down with coronavirus, we are in the midst of our normal flu season as well, so it’s a viral free-for-all. Given the heightened state of anxiety that we’ve all been living in, our immune systems are struggling. Don’t deny away any symptoms you may be having. It’s better to get some rest and get over the hump than spend the season with a house full of sick people.

CHECK ON YOUR LOVED ONES. If you can’t be together for the holidays, make sure you make time to talk to family and friends. Whether you do a mini-Zoom holiday party or FaceTime with Aunt Gladys to make sure she enjoyed that “Wine of the Month Club” subscription that you got her, prioritize connecting with people outside of your ‘bubble’. This time of year makes some people feel incredibly lonely even in a house full of other people, and that feeling of alienation can intensify after nearly a year of social distancing.

GIVE. Winter is here, and homeless shelters struggle to keep up with demand every year. Due to COVID, giving and volunteering are understandably down. Donate much-needed items like socks, coffee, and gently used coats to your local shelter, or ask them for their list of needs. Blood donations are also down this year. Special Olympics has lost nearly 400 fundraising opportunities due to the pandemic. Some assisted living facilities are offering the opportunity for families to ‘adopt a resident,’ and give gifts and homemade cards to our senior citizens who have been cut off from their families this entire time. There are numerous organizations that are feeling the pinch due to COVID and have ways that you can help them without putting your health at risk. You will be amazed at how reaching out to others helps you as well.

It’s the season of giving, after all.

REACH OUT if you are feeling overwhelmed by your anxiety or depression, do not be afraid to talk to your doctor or mental health professional. Anxiety and depression have skyrocketed this year due to COVID, and it is anticipated to get worse with the holidays. If you are struggling, there is absolutely nothing wrong with you. Again, NONE OF THIS IS NORMAL. NAMI.org has a complete list of resources and hotline numbers, as does the American Psychological Association website. There are also contact numbers for mental health care on the back of some insurance cards. There is no shame in needing psychological support during these chaotic times.

Just because this year is different doesn’t mean that it has to be hard. We were made to adapt. Even though it feels like the demand to do that has been a wee bit too much this year. All things considered, we are meeting the challenge and we are doing it together. This too shall pass, it may pass like a softball-sized kidney stone, but it will pass. One day, we may even be able to look back at 2020 with a little less bitterness and a little more gratitude.

The stories we will be able to tell the youngsters about 2020…

Here’s hoping, anyway.

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