14 Dec Coping with Isolation During the Holidays
The holidays can bring about a wide variety of emotions, but this year has added another layer of stress. With cases still escalating during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are making the tough decision to stay home for the holidays, forgoing big traditional gatherings. While this is extremely important for public health, it can also be extremely isolating. Here are some tips on finding the holiday spirit even while separated from loved ones.
Honor Your Feelings
If you’re like many people, you might be driven by “shoulds.” I should do this or that, and I should feel a certain way about it. But this year has completely changed life as we know it–we’re dealing with another severe wave of infections at a time when we would normally be getting together with family and friends. There is no playbook, and there are no “shoulds”. The first step in coping with this very different holiday season is giving yourself permission to feel how you feel, whether that’s warm and festive, or upset and angry.
Realize We’re All in It Together
As has been true throughout the pandemic, not everyone will follow public health guidelines. You might see social media photos of people gathered in groups, not wearing masks, or practicing physical distancing. This can make you feel even more alone. But keep in mind that social media is only a highly filtered snapshot of what’s going on the world. In reality, far more people are following the rules than not, and millions will forgo traditional holiday gatherings this year.
Decide What’s Important
Most of us traditionally spend the holidays running from here to there at high speed, with little downtime to reflect on what we’re doing and why. Take advantage of the slower pace this year to decide what matters most to you about the holidays. Is it cooking or baking? Spending time with family and friends? Giving gifts or decorating your home? Or perhaps it’s connecting with your spirituality? List the top three things about the holiday season that are most important to you, then do those things that make you the happiest.
Make a Plan
Once you know what matters most, make a plan to accomplish it within the parameters of staying home for the holidays. Many performing arts companies are offering virtual performances of seasonal holiday classics. Downtime means more time for trying recipes, making crafty decorations, or even hand making holiday gifts. Many houses of worship are providing services online. And while nothing beats being there in person, modern technology makes it easier than ever to spend quality time with your loved ones from a distance. A “Zoom family gathering” still allows you to be with loved ones, even if it is done via a computer or smartphone.
Be sure to plan for the actual day(s) of the holiday, such as Hanukkah, Christmas Day, or Kwanzaa. No matter how strong your overall plan for the season is, you don’t want to be stuck with nothing to do on the most important day. Taking the time to pre-plan the events and activities will give you something to look forward to as the day approaches.
Embrace the Solitude
If you’re feeling up to it, a quiet holiday season can be the perfect time to rest, recharge, and reflect. Turn on a holiday movie, bake some cookies, and find peace in living in the moment. Or take a long afternoon nap. Solitude can feel daunting at first, but if you can embrace it, you might just find that it’s a wonderful opportunity to rebuild your energy and start planning for your future.
Whether you live alone or are isolating with your immediate family, there are doubtless many others you would like to see for the holidays. During this traditional season of gathering, don’t be afraid to make the first (virtual) move. Call an old friend for an old-fashioned phone chat. Watch your grandkids or cousins open their presents via videoconferencing. Send holiday cards, or better yet, write handwritten letters to people you treasure. Host a virtual game night or organize an online Secret Santa exchange. Just because you’re not together in person, doesn’t mean there’s no reason not to spend time with each other.
Support groups are a wonderful way of connecting with others who may be struggling with emotions that are similar to your own. If you already see a therapist, find out if they offer an online group that allows you to connect with others who are also struggling with isolation. Additionally, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers free virtual support groups for individuals and families with mental health conditions. Visit their website to find a resource near you.
The holiday season can be rough even in a normal year. In 2020, many people are coping with job losses, ill friends and family members, economic uncertainties and other woes, as well as dealing with nearly a year of isolation. You might be entirely alone, or you might have been cooped up for months with a spouse working from home and children going to school virtually.
Regardless of your individual circumstances, though, there is no reason you need to handle all the pressure alone. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that it has made mental health care much more accessible. Teletherapy has been around for years, but 2020 really led to an explosion in its growth. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and simple remedies don’t help, reach out to a teletherapist for virtual visits. You can get the help you need–not just to survive, but thrive this holiday season.