For the last several weeks, we’ve all been wondering how the holidays were going to look. Other than being certain we’d hear Mariah Carey’s, “All I Want For Christmas Is You” on repeat, everything else about Christmas 2020, was completely up in the air.
The pandemic has messed up all of our 2020 plans, and with Christmas being the next casualty, this may have you feeling some type of way.
After recently chatting with a dear friend of mine about the upcoming Christmas season, we both discovered that we were having our own feelings heading into a Covid Christmas.
Megan Kirk Chang, is a clinical PTSD and trauma researcher, health coach, and yoga teacher on the Insight Timer App (Download it here: www.insighttimer.com). Megan specializes in helping those who have been through any kind of trauma or hardship to better understand the physical impact that trauma has on the brain and body (e.g. muscle tension, digestion issues, feeling “on guard”).
We decided to team up to discuss some of the possible triggers you may experience this time of year and provide a list of ideas and tips to help you survive the holidays, amidst a pandemic, because this is all new territory for all of us. But, we’re in this together.
Top Five Holiday Triggers
There’s no doubt this year will look different. Traditions will be modified, gatherings may feel tense or uneasy. Virtual gatherings, social distancing, lack of events, PPE wearing, dealing with other’s boundaries and comfort levels.
2. Grief & Loss
Dealing with grief and loss can be extra challenging during the holiday season as we often associate this time of year with connection. Also, the very things that spread COVID-19 (connection and contact) are the very things we are craving the most right now. There was a sense of loss on many levels in 2020 and it’s okay to be grieving.
3. Covid Burnout
It’s not just fatigue from countless virtual meetings. We have also been expected to maintain productivity as the pandemic rages on, as well as focus on self-care and manage our own mental health challenges. Not to mention having to worry about whether a family member will be exposed to the virus, or feeling the responsibility to save and support the local businesses that we love. Talk about massive amounts of pressure.
4. Family Dynamics
Families are complex at the best of times (some of you may even be thankful for a quiet Christmas this year!). Now with the added layers of the pandemic, we must navigate each other’s beliefs, boundaries and mental health challenges on top of the intricate dynamics that were already in existence. That means possibly feeling on edge a little more than usual.
5. Feelings of Not Being Enough
A core trigger that is universal is the feeling of not being enough. This year, we may not be able to celebrate our loved ones the way we had hoped. We may not be able to afford that special gift, or create the magical moment we had been planning. We may be grappling with not feeling productive enough in our work life and this can have a trickling effect on us.
Top Six Covid Christmas Survival Tips
1.Surround yourself with everything you love about the holidays.
Whether you typically go all out during the holidays, or not, we think it’s important to focus on what you love about Christmas this year (you know, like spiked eggnog). Surrounding yourself with things that bring you joy this time of year, can help ease the anxiety you may be feeling about the holidays.
You may have noticed that store shelves were quite pillaged in the Christmas decor department this year. That’s because most of us have been stuck at home, and probably want to change up the scenery a bit! Give yourself permission to go full Griswald, if it will help keep your anxiety levels down, and your excitement levels up.
Maybe this is the year you try to perfect Grandma’s Christmas cookie recipe in her honour, or finally complete that 1000 piece holiday-themed puzzle curled up next to the fire with a cup of homemade peppermint mocha.
Christmas ornaments and toilet paperwork seemed to be hot commodities in 2020, and if immersing yourself in coloured lights, tinsel, and light-up snowmen on the front lawn is going to help bring some joy back into your heart, then we are all for it.
We like to think that Clark Griswald would have handled the pandemic the exact same way. At least when Cousin Eddie’s shitter was full, he’d have a stock pile of paper products lined up in the garage ready to go.
2. Meditate and Practice Mindfulness
When we first hear the word “Mindfulness” we may have certain preconceived ideas, beliefs, or judgments about what that actually means. Did anyone else relate to Julia Robert’s character (Elizabeth Gilbert) in Eat, Pray, Love, when she was painfully trying to shut her brain off to practice the art of mediation? It can be difficult to surrender to the stillness of your mind, but mindfulness sometimes takes practice, and that’s ok.
We may have already decided that mindfulness is “not for me” or that “I can’t do that.” We may think we need to carve out an hour, or that we need special types of clothing or equipment, or that we need to place our hands in a certain way or chant various mantras. While these things are components of certain types of traditional meditation practices, this is not what the practice of mindfulness truly means.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, Mindfulness is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
When we pay attention, on purpose, we can learn how to respond more peacefully to our experience, rather than stay stuck in our knee-jerk reactions (e.g., yelling, withdrawing, inner rage). Mindfulness does not have to be excruciating. We can embed mindfulness into our daily lives by simply anchoring to our breath whenever we remember to.
Did you know that the brain is also incapable of holding an anxious thought, worry, or fear, while at the same time being in the present moment? The next time you notice that you’re replaying an argument from the past, or worrying about what your shoots from the hip aunt will say to you this holiday, try tuning in to your five senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell).
Megan offers free guided mindfulness meditations and live yoga sessions on the Insight Timer app that can help you with this. For beginners who are curious about starting a practice of mindfulness, she recommends the two techniques below:
The 5 Senses – http://insig.ht/gm_126314
Figure 8 Breath – http://insig.ht/gm_139777
Remember, mindfulness doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. It starts with noticing one more breath than before.
3. Maintain a Routine
Let’s face it, we’ve probably all changed our routines multiple times this year, which can create a major strain on our mental health and well-being. Shifting back and forth between pandemic lockdowns, zone restrictions, and now trying to settle into a holiday schedule, can leave us feeling completely overwhelmed.
Human beings are designed for routine yet it is one of the first things to go when we feel overwhelmed. We stop doing the very things that make us feel in control. We may compromise our personal hygiene, leave the dishes to pile up in the sink, and stop all forms of wellness like hitting your yoga mat or following through with virtual plans with a friend.
The key to getting into a routine is to start with small incremental steps. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and this applies to our routine as well. Instead of focusing on all the ways that we messed up, choose something small like making your bed or having a glass of water first thing in the morning. It takes 21-days to establish a new habit, so extend deep patience as you start small.
Remember, if you’re used to working out every day, waking up at a certain time, and having a midday snack of yogurt and berries, it may feel more challenging at this time of year. It’s also important to extend yourself grace if you cannot maintain the pace you were used to. Perhaps you give yourself permission to modify doing all of those things to feel more manageable, such as taking a walk if you can’t complete a full workout or waking up at a certain time 5 of the 7 days a week. As best you can, maintain some aspect of your routine, regardless of what Christmas craziness is going on as a way to show up for yourself.
Another routine that often falls to the wayside is being mindful of how we are fueling our bodies. The holidays can be very tempting and we may indulge in sugary, nutrient-deficient foods, or one too many egg nogs (or five).
When we are practicing mindfulness, we can make a choice as to whether indulging is truly leading to joy, or whether it is satisfying an underlying emotional need. When we ask ourselves, “how will this make me feel tomorrow” we can start to make more informed choices about what we consume over the holidays. This doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in holiday treats. Rather, thinking about how you will feel after one or two of Grandma’s cookies, instead of the entire plate is important to consider to ensure difficult feelings like guilt or shame do not surface.
If you want to feel a bit more energized or less heavy, try washing down the roof of your gingerbread house with a green smoothie this year. Or, for every holiday egg nog, have one glass of water.
4. Get Outdoors
We know this time of year is less than ideal for spending hours on end outdoors, but enjoying the cold crisp winter air can actually be incredibly beneficial for curbing holiday stress and anxiety.
Think about a fresh powdered snowfall in the early morning hours; the calmness, the stillness, the peacefulness, and the blanket of warmth it provides despite it’s frigid temperature. Fresh cold air can do the same thing for your soul.
If you are experiencing Covid Christmas anxiety, or if being quarantined to your house has you feeling isolated, try bundling up and going for a quick 5-10 minute walk through your neighbourhood.
If you feel up to it, or a bit more adventurous, hit up a nearby nature trail. The fresh air in your lungs, and the smell of pine trees in the breeze could just be the literal breath of fresh air that you need to keep your stress at bay.
And If you really can’t fathom facing the cold, then just sip Bailey’s near an open window.
5. Laugh. Like, a lot.
If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Just kidding, but honestly, it’s 2020, stranger things have happened. We’ve all heard the quote: “laughter is the best medicine”, well, there’s definitely some truth to that.
Although you may not be feeling overly joyful this Christmas, due to feelings of grief, loss, or just overall sadness from not being able to spend the holidays with family and friends, but try and give yourself permission to laugh.
Watch your favourite holiday classic comedies, listen to light-hearted podcasts, lose yourself for hours on end in hilarious TikTik videos or even share funny stories with friends over the phone or video call.
Also recognize that it may be tough to let yourself experience this type of joy, especially if you’ve been having a hard time coping with the events that have happened this year. It may also be difficult to laugh, if you’ve recently lost a loved one, or pet. Letting yourself laugh and feel joy may even bring on feelings of guilt, particularly if someone close to you is going through a difficult time.
Laughter, even if it’s just for a brief moment, can remind you that there is light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. There are so many health benefits to laughter. Aside from easing stress and anxiety, laughter is a major mood booster. And that’s no joke.
6. Find Creative Ways to Connect
It may be challenging to feel human connection this year since most of us are going to be physically apart from our family and friends this Christmas.
Find new ways to connect with your favourite people. Whether that means hosting a virtual wine or beverage tasting, participating in the same activity simultaneously (eg. a game, or tuning in to the same TV show or movie at the same time), or creating a virtual dinner date by all ordering or making the same meal to enjoy together, separately.
There are plenty of ways to feel connected to people over the holidays, even if you aren’t physically in the same room. Maintain consistent contact, by texting or emailing, or checking in once a day over the phone. Who knows, you may even form a closer bond with friends and family, and be able to connect on an even DEEPER level.
It’s ok if it’s NOT the most wonderful time of the year
Whether you are feeling triggered by the season, currently struggling with the events that have gone on this year, or just feeling uncertain of what the new year will bring, this Christmas is going to bring up a lot of feelings for everyone.
As many social media influencers start to post their 2020 achievements, remember that just getting to December is a milestone in and of itself. Celebrate the strength and effort your mind and body have had to get you to the end of the year.
We hope that you can use this list as a guide to help you determine what you need to survive Christmas 2020. Be kind to yourself, and surrender to the feelings you’re having, but just remember that there are so many coping strategies at your disposal if you need them.
For instance, if plopping yourself in front of the TV to binge-watch 26 years’ worth of Grey’s Anatomy is going to fill your cup this Christmas, then, by all means, do that.
For More Information about Megan’s services, hop on over to her website: HERE
Merry (Covid) Christmas,