How to Make the Holiday Special

This season is usually reserved for celebration and gathering, but today, many of us are experiencing holidays during the pandemicsomething very different. And while by now, you may be tired of hearing about how different the holidays look this year, you’re probably still bearing the emotional impact of what that means. These next couple weeks are likely to hit us with waves of grief, loneliness, disappointment, anxiety, and all that same uncertainty that has woven its way through 2020. So, how can we honor these feelings and still create a holiday that is meaningful to us? Here are eight suggestions to help you connect with the sense of peace, gratitude, and warmth that we’re yearning for right now.

1. Allow Yourself to Feel Sad

On any given year, the holidays can be bittersweet, as we remember loved ones who are no longer with us. This year, our sadness extends to those we can’t be with in person. It’s important to take the pauses we naturally need to honor these feelings. Trying to constantly keep calm and carry on is exhausting and can disconnect us from our feelings in general. It can also lead us to have dips in our mood and energy.

Giving ourselves the time and space to feel our feelings fully can actually revitalize us. When we don’t express our sadness (or our anger for that matter) in a clear, direct way, we often turn it against ourselves, feeling more down, drained, and self-critical. Letting out our sadness can be like letting a wave pass over us. Yes, it will rise and peak, but it will also pass. And although, the feeling may return, each time it will leave us more in touch with ourselves and stronger in the moments we wish to carry on and be there for others. Accepting our pain in this way can also make the joyful moments more precious.

2. Have a Real Conversation About What You’re Feeling With Loved Ones

The underlying poignancy of this year is not something we can cover up with wrapping paper. While we may be feeling fatigued when it comes to video chatting, it’s important not to hold back when we speak to close friends and family and not leave things unsaid. If there was ever a time to be open and expressive about how we’re doing, that time is now. Having a real conversation about what we’re going through is essential. It allows the people we care for to really know and understand us. It fosters a feeling of closeness despite any physical distance, and it opens the door for the other person to open up to us. If we’re struggling, we should not hide this from others.

It’s way too easy when we’re isolated to let a “critical inner voice” take over that tells us we’re not important, that we shouldn’t bother others, or that they don’t care. Having this voice in our heads is like living with an internal enemy, and we must treat it as one by resisting its directives. Make a time to talk to friends or call out of the blue when you need someone. Let them know what you’re experiencing, what challenges you’re facing, and what they mean to you. Certain emotions are going to hit each of us at different times. Being there for one another at these moments, while being open and vulnerable is a genuine way to connect to ourselves and others and will help us all through this time.

3. Create a New Tradition

Many of us are mourning the loss of traditions that we typically share, or we’re trying to configure those traditions to ensure the safety of our loved ones. It’s okay to feel sad about this absence and still summon our creativity to uncover a new way to make meaning in this moment. This isn’t about putting pressure on ourselves to invent a perfect plan. Instead, we should meet ourselves exactly where we’re at.

For some of us, that may mean carving out a specific moment to relax in whatever way makes us feel safe or soothed. Some examples from friends I’ve heard recently have included meditating, baking for friends and family, reading by the fire, cooking a certain meal, watching an old movie, exchanging gifts via Zoom, keeping a list of things they’re thankful for, decorating their house, making photo albums, and writing handwritten cards to loved ones.

4. Do Something For Yourself

Not to sound cheesy, but I mean it when I say that if there is one thing to celebrate this year, it’s you. We have all gotten through a very tough time, and there is nothing selfish about giving yourself a gift in whatever form holds value to you personally. Take time to explore and invest in something that matters to you. For some people, these are acts of self-care. For others, that may mean seeking opportunities to develop or learn more about themselves through therapy or an online course. Allow yourself to reflect on the strength it’s taken to get you where you are. Give yourself permission to get creative and let your mind to wander as you think of activities that will offer you a sense of peace or fulfillment. Finally, be sure to give yourself time to enjoy the rewards of whatever you choose for yourself.

5. Volunteer

Giving is always a gift to ourselves, particularly at moments when we feel down or isolated. Looking for ways to volunteer virtually or reach out to others is an act of generosity, but also one of self-care. Shifting our focus outward allows us the freedom to step outside ourselves, which can be a true offering in these times when we are spending so much more time alone or at home.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Keeping a daily list of what we’re thankful for is always a good idea. Gratitude has a wide range of mental health benefits, and the simple task shifts our focus to the positive aspects of our lives. Despite a great deal of darkness clouding this year, we can each get in touch with the points of light in and around us that keep us going and continue to offer us meaning.

7. Take Advantage of the Quiet Moments

One small, simple shift that has helped people during this time is to focus on the peace that quiet moments offer. Holidays, in general, can be chaotic, and for some, overwhelming. There may be certain benefits of using this time to reflect and feel present. Naturally, not all moments will feel like this right now, but with more time staying home, we can try to take time to be still, paying attention to our sensory experience, and connecting more deeply to our gratitude.

8. Keep Hope Alive

One thing we need to remember is that this moment will pass. Life will always be full of ups and downs but this year has truly been unlike any other. While we may be feeling beat down, we’re still moving forward, and there’s real reason to be hopeful looking ahead. No matter how many times we’ve broken down, we’ve gotten back up and we’ve made strides to get through a really hard time. The lessons we’ve learned and continue to learn will stay with us forever. This holiday may not be what we were hoping, but we have every reason to keep hope alive and well, front and center to whatever way we celebrate. Thanks to the tireless work of people around the world, things will get better. And just as we’ve withstood the bad, we will be there to revel in the good.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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