If you usually love yet hate the shopping, cooking, cleaning, traveling, or spending that’s associated with the winter holidays, remember that there is at least one silver lining to the pandemic: It may make it easier to take a more laid-back approach to the holiday season this year.
As we are asked to tone down the usual holiday festivities, celebrating without your usual crowd may feel devastating—but staying home can also help you realize what’s meaningful about the holidays, without being distracted by the usual stressors. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving was to interact only with members of your household. The same advice is likely to apply to the December holidays.
Many of us may be disheartened by “what has been taken away or what we have lost—for example, these big family holiday gatherings,” says Jennifer Wegmann, Ph.D., a lecturer and researcher at Binghamton University in New York, who studies the effects of stress. “But we can also focus on what remains or what new opportunities lie ahead for us.”
Accepting that your celebrations need to be less elaborate this year may put you in the right mindset to create a meaningful plan for the upcoming holidays. “We have an opportunity to slow down, to relax—something that often gets overlooked when people are trying to make the holidays perfect,” says Lynn Bufka, Ph.D., the American Psychological Association’s associate executive director for practice research and policy.
Even though it may not be what most of us are accustomed to, remember that with a little creativity, it’s still possible to have a meaningful holiday season. If you’re planning on hunkering down at home, try these ideas for a low-key take on the holidays:
Create a pandemic holiday plan
Your usual holiday-prep plans probably won’t work this year. “Try to see this as an opportunity,” Bufka says. “Identify what is most important to you and plan the holiday so those things happen.”
Instead of ignoring the need to change logistics, figure out early how you’ll celebrate. “It is important to start talking and planning now and avoid the last-minute stress of, ‘What do we do?’” says clinical psychologist Mary Ann Mercer, PsyD, founder of PositiveLifeAnswers.com. “People who focus on problem-solving during this time are less anxious and depressed and see this challenge will not last forever. Make a list of options and then have everyone sleep on it before talking again and making final choices.”
Acknowledge the situation
A stay-at-home holiday isn’t the celebration that most people want, even if you’re actually a little relieved that you don’t have to prepare dinner for twelve. Many people may experience disappointment, even anger. Allow yourself time to mourn the loss of your usual festivities, then focus on ways that you’ll honor the season this year.
“People will have a range of feelings related to the disrupted holidays: Anger, frustration, sadness and, let’s be honest, for some, a relief that they won’t have to deal with their relatives,” says Jonathan Kanter, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Science of Social Connection at the University of Washington. “I know people are tired and exhausted at how long this is lasting, but now is the time to dig deeper and remind ourselves that we can keep going. We are stronger than we might think, and we have an incredible capacity to adapt to our evolving context.”
Acknowledging the pandemic’s effects on the holidays may make it easier for you to move forward. “Being angry or upset about staying at home is not healthy, and while difficult, we should try and stay positive,” says William Heckman, executive director of the Texas-based American Institute of Stress. First acknowledging the situation, then striving to shift your perspective about it, may help you to adapt and ultimately feel more positive.
Reach out to loved ones
It’s okay to miss your favorite aspects of the holidays. You might even be surprised by what you long for. “Some people may find they miss the work of preparing for the holidays,” Heckman says.
Talking with friends and family about the things that you miss may make it easier. “These responses are normal reactions and understandable during such a long-lasting, difficult time,” Mercer says. “It is possible to become stronger and grow closer together, even with the challenge and stress of not seeing your family and friends as you wish this holiday.”
Try making a festive family recipe via video call, or experiment with a new cocktail then happy hour with friends? Or, you could “go caroling” together by sending each other videos belting out your favorite holiday ballads. There are so many ways to get creative about how you connect with those you love, even if you can’t do it in person this year.
Don’t feel guilty if you feel relieved
Even if you’re sorry that you won’t see your extended family, you may be glad that you don’t have to cook and clean, pay for airfare and hotel reservations, or make conversation with your inappropriate uncle. It’s okay to breathe easier about missing certain aspects of your traditional celebrations.
“There should be no guilt associated with feeling this way,” Wegmann says. “When we go through the holidays on autopilot, stressed to the max—cooking, cleaning and looking for the perfect gift—we lose sight of the meaning behind the holiday and feel [it’s] more like a chore than a celebration.”
With more time to spend at home and fewer holiday preparations on the schedule, you may find time to indulge in self-care. And if that’s not a positive, we don’t know what is! “Those who have a less elaborate holiday may find they have more time for other things that are important, which could be time for exercising or getting sufficient sleep,” Bufka says. “Less elaborate baking and cooking and cleaning could mean a bit more time for a long phone call with a dear friend.”
So, remember to take advantage of that time to take care of yourself. It’s important to be easy on yourself no matter what your feelings are around this unique holiday season. Carving out time to clear your head, meditate, do some yoga, nap, or even just take a long bath could make all the difference here.
Focus on self-care
It may also be a good idea to put time limits on your social media scrolling. Prioritizing other activities that are important to you could lessen FOMO about the holidays. “More time with fewer responsibilities does not automatically equate to more self-care,” Wegmann says. “This takes intention. We need to acknowledge that we deserve to take care of ourselves and give ourselves permission to do so. I so often see guilt undermine self-care. We should never feel like we need to explain, rationalize, or apologize for taking care of ourselves.”
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
By LISA FIELDS
a full-time freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition, fitness, sleep, and psychology. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, WebMD, Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Women’s Health, Shape, Self, and other publications. She lives in South Jersey, outside of Philadelphia. Learn more about Lisa at writtenbylisafields.com.