A different approach to the holidays

Billie Wade, writer

November traditionally kicks off the holiday season for many people. Preparation for the Big Three holidays—Thanksgiving; Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa; and, New Year’s Eve—sometimes begins in August. The time brings together a massive celebration of hope for the new year. We breathe a collective sigh as the current year approaches extinction. This year has presented us with unique challenges for which none of us could have prepared. Sheltering-in-place has been both a bane and an opportunity. As this year progressed, we found ourselves more and more uncertain as several major occurrences converged. But life is always uncertain, always has been, always will be. Only now, it seems, the stakes are higher and the stress more intense. COVID-19 and the resultant fallout, racial tension, political stress, wildfires, floods, and hurricanes add to the strain of everyday living. Those in northern parts of the country may or may not be looking forward to this year’s snowfall and yet more time indoors. Our foray into the holidays this year may take on a different meaning, one of deeper reflection and introspection. Gratitude may be a balm to us or may be difficult to grasp.

Fall and winter are notorious for increasing our mental health symptoms. Long nights of darkness turn into short days which unfold in slow motion. The holidays have a way of magnifying loneliness, depression, anxiety, and addictions. In my October 2020 article, I discussed SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which complicates other mental health symptoms. A report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states: Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April–June of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Their report includes sobering statistics of the effects of COVID-19 on these and other mental health distress—domestic violence, suicide, and alcohol and drug use. You can read the entire report here.

Gauge your situation with great care and reach out when you need to. Watch for signs and symptoms in friends and loved ones and enlist help if necessary. Click here to schedule an appointment with the Center. 

Many of you know I am an avid journaler and maintain a daily practice of written gratitude, reflection, introspection, and exploration. You may not know I am an introvert albeit a gregarious one. I can spend several hours with individuals or groups of fewer than five people. However, I can tolerate chitchatting in groups of more than five people for periods of about two hours, longer if we are focused on a topic or activity, such as a class. Then, I must return to the sanctuary of my home to recharge and reset. So, the COVID-19 restrictions have been less difficult for me than for some of my friends, and I suspect, for some of you.

At first the idea of self-isolation excited me. I was almost giddy as I thought about how much time I would save in driving time, finding a parking space, dealing with traffic, inclement weather, gas. (Imagine gleeful emoji here.) Then, reality set in. Other activities swallowed the hours of travel time I saved. Whether I am, in fact, more productive is debatable. Somehow, I seem to be busier than before, a sentiment echoed by some of my friends. Zoom appointments consume much of my time, sometimes four meetings in one day. That recognition is not a complaint, but rather a statement of gratitude for videoconferencing that allows me to continue connecting with others. I love everything I do, and I enjoy working with an expanding circle of incredible people. Conclusion: Zoom is a good thing. The most popular platforms I know of are Zoom, Google Meet, and Facetime (Apple)—there may be more.

At first, self-quarantining offered many opportunities for getting stuff done—clean out the garage, organize the photo album, read from our growing stack of books we planned to get to someday, try new recipes. Many of us took up new hobbies or revisited activities we had laid aside as life took over. Confined to our homes with ourselves, we may have bumped into latent thoughts and feelings we had relegated to our subconscious years ago. We suddenly faced ourselves. This time is an invitation to acknowledge and honor our grief and to express gratitude during this year. We look toward January with hope for a “new and improved” upcoming year. It also is a call to commit to ourselves with intention what we want, where we want to go, who we want to be and create a plan to get there.

Our most powerful tools may be acceptance and action. We look at ourselves, our circumstances, our relationships, and the world at large and acknowledge that what we see may not be what we want but that it is, if we are honest, what we face. Having named the reality, we can move forward. Next, we ask, “What can I do now?” The answer may surprise you. It may be different than writing letters, participating in protests, posting on social media, or organizing a book club, although all are excellent endeavors. However, those actions are not suitable for everyone. Sometimes, the best we can do is self-care and that is more than enough. We look for ways to become peaceful within ourselves. Enhancing or increasing spiritual practices can be of enormous benefit to some people.

Then, we create a plan, any plan. Call it a vision. Call it a daydream. Call it wishful thinking. Call it an honest yearning of your heart. Give yourself more than a cursory, “I want to lose twenty pounds next year,” or “I want to save $x a month,” or “I promise to read a book a week.” These are great desires especially because they are specific and measurable. But, too often, we approach them without much thought. They become yet another defunct resolution. Think about what you need to transform your life into a self-celebration. Think about what brings you indescribable serenity. Think about the messages you recite when you communicate with yourself. Think of what brings you joy. Think of what nurtures and soothes you. Perhaps what you need is a bowl of oatmeal, a slice of toast, and a glass of orange juice.

Here are some tips for creating and executing a doable plan. (Please keep in mind some thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and patterns can be deep-seated messages we have carried a long time—even decades—and may require focused effort and patience  and, possible professional mental health support to accomplish or to heal.)

  1. Write what you want with crystal clear clarity. Try to avoid “walk more often” in favor of “walk twenty minutes every morning before work.”
  2. Think about why this is important to you. It may be murky at first. Record all your related thoughts.
  3. Define what do you need to make it happen. List every detail, then organize them into steps. Index cards are handy for this.
  4. Determine whether you need help
  5. For a list of activities to consider, see my posts: 23 Tips to Get Through the Holidays – November 2017, 23 Tips to Get Through the Holidays – November 2018, and 2019 Holiday Survival Guide – November 2019.
  6. This plan is flexible, making it doable for just about everyone. Do as much or as little as works for you. Revise and experiment and adapt.
  7. That’s it! Go for it! Celebrate the result!

Resolutions to current stressors are neither easy nor swift. Getting through this time is tough for all of us. We can take comfort in knowing we are not alone. Globally, the pandemic virtually every country. Nationally, we also grapple with myriad domestic issues. Regionally, we face natural disasters. From our states to our communities, additional problems arise. There are ways to reach out, to soothe ourselves and each other, to hold the Light of Hope lightly in our awareness, to breathe, just breathe.

Be well. Be safe. Be at peace. Cultivate joy. Wear your mask.