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A woman standing on a dock overlooking a lake on a sunny winter day.

Maximizing Wellbeing During the 2020 Holiday Season

You might be wondering if that’s even possible. 2020 has been a challenge, to say the least. There’s no doubt that it’s left a lot of us feeling increased loneliness, isolation, worry, boredom, and frustration. Nothing about this year has felt normal, and most of us have had to make at least some adjustments.

Fortunately, it’s gone relatively well for some. But others have seen their mental health decline due to the lack of social support, fears about health and financial security, and the prolonged loss of our old way of life. And for those who’ve lost loved ones or jobs due to the pandemic, or have worked the front lines non-stop, things might be feeling particularly hopeless. Anxiety and depression are on the uptick, both for those who’ve wrestled with them previously, and for those who never have.

Under normal circumstances, the holidays can serve as a buffer against emotional struggles, offering folks the chance to spend meaningful time with family and friends and renew their hope and optimism for better things to come in the new year. But this time of the year can also be challenging for those who don’t experience joy during this season. For people who’ve suffered a significant loss, for example, or who are grappling with ongoing illness, addiction, or strained family relationships, the holidays only serve as a reminder of the things they don’t have.

Whatever the holidays mean for you under normal circumstances, you’ll likely have to adjust to a different – 2020 – version of them. If the year has already left you feeling stressed, you might be wondering how you’ll get through this season with your wellbeing intact. Here are a few ideas.

Connect with Yourself

When was the last time you checked in with yourself about how you’re doing? We’ve all been burdened with a keen awareness that things aren’t right this year, and the holidays will probably only serve to reinforce that. But how often do you examine and identify exactly what you’re feeling, and more importantly, allow yourself to express it? This kind of emotional catharsis is key to good mental health because it keeps things from building up and boiling over, or showing up in the form of depression or anxiety. It can also prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms such as addiction, which often arise through efforts to numb difficult feelings.

You might choose to deeply connect with your feelings on your own by journaling, or with a trusted friend or family member or a helping professional. Or you might find that you resonate more with an artistic form of emotional expression such as painting, singing, or dancing. However it is that you get in touch with your feelings and move them outside of yourself, try to prioritize doing it. And remember to take good care of yourself afterward. Emotional work is hard work, and you deserve to reward yourself. So make a plan to do something rejuvenating as a follow-up. This will replenish your emotional reserve, and make you more likely to engage in such emotional catharsis again.

It’s important to note that if connecting deeply with your emotions leaves you feeling in immediate crisis, please call the Tennessee Statewide Mental Health Crisis Line at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).

Connect with Others

During this time of suggested isolation, it’s more important than ever to prioritize quality connection with others. You might not be able to physically be with family and friends this holiday season, so you’ll need to be extra intentional about making your virtual interactions meaningful. Whereas moments together in “normal” years might have been filled with small talk and shared activities where you’re not really connecting very deeply, consider packing your shorter interactions with more meaningful communication. A stronger emotional closeness such as this could go a long way in making the physical distance more tolerable.

For example, you might ask those you care about to share with you what they’ve truly been through this year; find out about their struggles and where they’ve found unexpected joy. Ask them if they consider this year to be the hardest one they’ve lived through, or if some other circumstance in their past was more challenging. Share with each other your coping mechanisms and explore what you wish you were doing a better job with.

Or tell someone who’s really important to you what you’re grateful for in your relationship with them. You might not often do this, but it can give definition to the more ambiguous good feelings you get when you’re with them. It will give them some insight into the special qualities they bring to the relationship, and help you understand the things you find essential in one. You’ll both likely learn a lot about yourselves and about your relationship, too.

With older relatives, consider finding out more about their childhood or what their lives were like when they’re the same age you are now. Or ask what their younger hopes and dreams were, or how they ended up following a particular career path or hobby. Find out if there’s anything they wish they’d known at your age or done differently. In learning so much about someone else, you might be surprised to find that you also learn something about yourself.

Cut Yourself Some Slack

Since there’s not been much normalcy this year, why expect the usual things of yourself? Especially during the holidays, it’s easy for our self-expectations to become perfectionistic in nature. Instead, strive toward making them as realistic as possible. And given that it is 2020, after all, perhaps even expect quite a bit of deviation from the norm. If old holiday traditions are scrapped, try to consider this year as an opportunity to develop new ones – and look forward to future years when you can reflect on this one and be grateful that you made it through.

Practice gratitude around the things you’re thankful are still a part of your life. Remember that this season of our lives is temporary. It’s easier to maintain flexibility when we have faith that at some point, things will return to normal. And break your forward-thinking into manageable chunks – get through one afternoon or day at a time instead of thinking in terms of weeks or months. You’ll feel much more accomplishment and much less overwhelmed.

And if you’re grieving a significant loss this season, allow yourself to feel the sadness around it. Remember to engage in plenty of replenishing self-care, and give yourself permission to do this holiday season differently than usual. Remain flexible, doing only the holiday activities you have the energy and emotional reserve for – not necessarily all the ones you’ve done in the past. And consider honoring the loss as part of your holiday tradition this year. Acknowledging it, as painful as it might feel in the moment, can be a significant part of your grieving process.

If you’ve tried everything you can think of and you’re still feeling burdened with the weight of 2020 this holiday season, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone in the helping profession. Our therapists at Brentwood Counseling Associates are currently offering both in-person and virtual counseling sessions to support you during this time. Sometimes it’s just too hard to do it all on your own, and that’s where we come in. So please reach out and let us know how we can help.

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