7 Tips to Get Through 2020’s Holiday Season: A Therapist’s Advice

I have to be honest. My general feeling about the holidays usually leaves me wanting to go to sleep around Thanksgiving and wake up after New Year’s. Thanks to the pandemic, those feelings have only intensified this year.

That being said, I’m going to take some of my own advice …

  1. Expect to feel a rollercoaster of emotions. If we can expect this, we’re less likely to be surprised when it happens. It’s the difference between being in a defensive versus an offensive position. Expect to have moments where you’re feeling good and moments where you feel down. And remember they are all moments. This too shall pass.
  2. Be real about your ability to control your thoughts and feelings. This is just another reminder to stop “should-ing on yourself.” As Jon Hershfield, MFT says, “you are not the author of your thoughts.” When we expect ourselves to be able to control what we think or how we feel, we inadvertently make what we think or feel bigger and stronger. Instead, give yourself permission to feel however you’re feeling without the added judgement.
  3. Don’t forget you are responsible for how you respond to the above. I get this question a lot: “if I can’t control what I think or feel, does that mean I just need to accept my situation?” NO! One of the benefits of mindfulness is being able to differentiate between having a thought and thinking. Having a thought is an involuntary process. Thinking is a voluntary process; it’s a behavior of analyzing or processing a thought. With anxiety, it’s often the thinking that maintains the feeling. The thinking is the process of trying to get some certainty where it doesn’t exist. We do have control over how we respond to our thoughts and feelings. It may not feel like it in the moment, BUT we do. And the more mindful we are, the easier it is to respond. When we’re reacting mindlessly, it’s easier to get caught in habitual patterns. For instance, let’s say you’re feeling guilty about canceling holiday events this year because of COVID concerns (among other reasons). Chances are, you may have lots of thoughts and feelings that come up about disappointing other people, upsetting your kids, feeling relieved but guilty about feeling relieved, wondering what other people may think, wondering how you should respond if you get asked to parties, etc. Lots of thoughts and feelings and lots of potential rabbit holes.You can’t control the presence of them, and that’s ok.You want to accept their presence in this moment, and, here’s the hard part, be intentional in how you respond to them (if you respond). You’ll never know what others are thinking (there’s no certainty to be gotten), for example, so be “sure enough” that they’ll be ok and let those “what if thoughts” be.For people with anxiety, the less you engage with your thoughts, the better. Simple but not easy.
  4. Start new traditions and ditch expectations. One of COVID’s biggest lessons is that of flexibility. Be flexible this season. Try something different. Maybe you don’t get together for a meal inside, but you take a family walk. The point is to be together in some way.
  5. Small is good. Change doesn’t have to be seismic. What’s important is that you’re heading in the right direction.
  6. Give back—in whatever way you can. Make a donation, volunteer. Getting outside of yourself can be one of the most refreshing actions to take.
  7. Take care of each other. Loneliness, depression, sadness, isolation. These are real things. Check in on those who are alone, divorced, separated and/or living without family near. I’d guess everyone may be feeling more of these vulnerable emotions, even the ones that appear fine or say they don’t need anyone.

Still reach out.