The holiday season and its gatherings are joyous occasions filled with music, traditions, and a full calendar. There is a 'To Do' list full of cooking meals, cleaning, shopping, decorating, baking, entertaining, and the worry of getting it all done. For some, the holidays bring reminders of loss and grief. This year involves a new list of “what is safe/not safe” questions. It can be overwhelming and a bit disappointing.
One of the hidden stressors with COVID is the loss of routine. It has temporarily changed our day to day life and will temporarily change our holiday experience this year. It’s been a forgettable year and, yet, a memorable one. Years from now the stories will be, “Remember the year of the pandemic, when we all wore masks and ate at home….?”
In dealing with the loss of routine, the Mayo Clinic has some suggestions. Pay attention to your feelings - journal about them if you like. Think about your own strengths and coping skills – what has helped you in the past? Stay connected with family and friends through phone calls, text, social media and video chats. Limit your news intake. Remember the journey, the good memories, and the big picture of this year. Take comfort in the creative ways that make you feel better, like art or cooking. Most importantly, create an adapted routine that helps you preserve your sense of order and purpose. Include exercise and hobbies, regular sleep, and food that is healthy. Focus on the present and the things you can control.
You can help yourself mitigate holiday stress in general with these additional tips: Be realistic – the holidays don’t have to perfect or like last year. Put grievances with family and friends aside for now. Say No to things that will increase your stress. Take 15 minutes when you need it – go for a walk, listen to music, read a book, or whatever helps you unwind. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers (such as financial pressure or personal demands) so you can plan ahead and head them off.
When it comes to shopping, decide how much you can afford and then stick to it. Shop locally. This supports local businesses and eliminates the need to travel. Donate to a charity in someone’s name. Exchange names instead of having to buy something for everyone.
Limiting your in-person family gatherings to those who live in your household will be the safest way to celebrate the holidays. Virtual events will allow you to see everyone without needing to travel or gather together indoors.
A new concept called the social bubble is a way to gather with others while reducing the risk of spreading COVID. A social bubble is a small, clearly defined group of people that agree in advance to limit their close contacts to only those within the bubble. Everyone in the bubble commits to wearing a mask, watching their distance, washing their hands, and avoiding close contact with people outside their bubble. Bubbles can bring their own utensils, drinks, and even food. “Remember the year of the pandemic and we had that bubble….?”
Finally, know that you are not alone. There are resources locally and virtually that can help you through the compound worries, stress, and grief of the holidays with COVID. Contact Allison Hofstad (701-351-3530) or Tiffany Hetletved (701-370-5985) with Aspiring Hope Therapy. Devils Lake Psychological Services can be reached at 701-662-8255 Tuesdays and Thursdays. Lutheran Social Services in partnership with Project Renew provides free virtual group counseling sessions to anyone in North Dakota impacted by COVID. Call 701-223-1510 or email email@example.com to sign up or get more information. Grief and Loss during COVID is held Mondays at 6:30 p.m.; Baby, Let’s Talk (for parents and soon to be parents) is Thursdays at 3:00 p.m.; High Risk, High Anxiety (Navigating COVID as a high-risk individual) is Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.; and the next Educator Support Group (open to educators) will be December 28, 1:00-3:00 p.m.