November 12, 2020

Managing the Holidays with COVID

Author: Ani Shahinian
Source:  NYSUT Social Services
health and safety

The holidays are upon us, and so is the resurgent pandemic. So, while the holidays are here, we may not celebrate them in the ways that we usually look forward to. This can feel like yet another loss that the pandemic has inflicted on us. It threatens to increase anxiety and depression – especially among those who are already vulnerable and isolated.

Some of us are devasted by the loss of a loved one from COVID and are dealing with the prospect of our first holiday season without them. Others feel a sense of loss at the possibility of not spending time with loved ones this winter. For those with elderly relatives, the feeling may be especially acute, as we miss them and worry about their health over the next few months.

It is important to anticipate these feelings and challenges ahead of time. Here are some strategies and resources we can use to combat these extraordinary times of anxiety and stress:

Acknowledge that we are sad about the disruption to our holiday plans to ourselves and others.

We all look forward to this time of year as the annual occasion to connect with loved ones, and any compromise on that connection can have lasting emotional consequences. Give yourself space to mourn these circumstances, and don't feel guilty because others may have it worse than you. At the same time, it's important to remind ourselves that these circumstances are temporary and not to give in to catastrophizing the future with what-if scenarios. If your family will not be able to get together this year, plan excitedly for the future in which you will all be able to be together.

CDC has compiled a guide for dealing with grief and loss during the pandemic.

Start planning for the disruptions now and understanding that circumstances will likely change as cold weather sets in.

There is uncertainty and unpredictability about what may happen for those committed to getting together. Interstate travel limitations, vulnerable family members, and inter-family disagreements over the threat posed by COVID will likely complicate attempts to get together.

As your family discusses plans and contingencies, it's vital to assess all the risks associated with getting together. The CDC offers a comprehensive guideline for getting together on each holiday, including more general information about holding celebrations during the fall and winter. It also provides risk assessments for various other winter activities.

Assess now: what are the comfort levels of different family members, and how seriously do they take the public health guidelines?

One difficult challenge will be negotiating different expectations among family members. If you are attending an event, learn what precautions will be in place ahead of time to evaluate for yourself the degree to which you are comfortable participating. If you plan to host an event, recognize that it is your responsibility to make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable. In both instances, be wary of the social pressure to participate in holiday events and resist the urge to compromise your safety out of a sense of obligation.

Clearly communicate with your family and focus on your comfort levels and boundaries.

If you decide to skip a holiday trip or forgo a family gathering, you may deal with family members' frustration who do not share your limits. In these instances, it is important to clearly communicate your comfort level and boundaries rather than debating the validity of the science or the politics surrounding the CDC guidelines. Agree to disagree, and try to acknowledge whatever disappointment your family members are expressing. While they may feel that your concern is exaggerated, do not allow them to discount your feelings and preferences.

Anticipate feelings ahead of time to feel less hopeless and helpless.

Ultimately, we have to make the best decisions we can with the imperfect information at hand. We should accept that we may not feel excited about our choices, but we must stay true to what is best for ourselves and our family.

On the positive side, the limitations the pandemic imposes on us may create opportunities to forge new holiday rituals. Some of those rituals may last well beyond the pandemic and offer us novel ways to keep connected. So, remember to control the things you can, let go of what you can't control (including other people's feelings and beliefs), make a plan but keep it flexible, and celebrate in whatever way you feel comfortable. We all have things to be grateful for.

If you and or a family member struggles with ongoing sadness and anxiety about the pandemic, especially during the holidays (which can be a stressful time independent of COVID), please don't hesitate to contact NYSUT Social Services at 518-213-6000.

Have a happy and safe holiday season.