“I used to complain bitterly about the holidays—all the social obligations and family time. Right now, I would do anything to attend one of those gatherings I used to dread,” explained a patient during a Zoom session.
For as long as I have been practicing psychiatry, helping patients navigate the stress of the holidays was a primary focus during the months of November and December. Awkward office holiday parties, the burden of family rituals, and unrealistic expectations coupled with the pressure to be merry contributed to holiday woes. I miss helping my patients navigate the gauntlet between Thanksgiving and New Years, and I miss having these conversations in person.
For all of us, this is uncharted territory, but there are things we can do to make the most of this strange holiday season.
1. Forget about trying to pretend things are normal.
Accepting the reality that this year will be different and even difficult will prevent you from tumbling down the rabbit hole of winsome yearning.
2. The pandemic is not permanent.
A vaccine is on the horizon and better treatments are available for those who fall ill. While a return to normalcy may take a while, Yale sociologist and physician Nicholas Christakis imagines a post-pandemic period analogous to the Roaring Twenties when socializing and joie de vivre will return with a vengeance.
3. Remove the rose-tinted glasses.
When we remember events from the past, we tend to romanticize them. We remove details and eliminate the negative aspects. As my patient acknowledged, she didn’t miss fighting her way through crowded airports, shopping on Black Friday, and making small talk at holiday cocktail parties dressed in festive attire.
4. Boost someone else’s day.
While this may not be the holiday you hoped for, make it meaningful by doing something for others, such as delivering meals to the homebound elderly. Acts of kindness can turn Covid fatigue into catastrophe compassion.
5. Make a positive connection.
Reach out to friends and family members you would normally share the day with. Plan an online activity or a game the group can play. Here is my new favorite Thanksgiving question to ask: “In 6 words, what are you grateful for?” What I love about this exercise is it requires us to focus on what really matters.
Here are two examples: “Numbers rise, but the sun does too.”
“Vaccines are coming—thank you science.” Please share your answers with me.
Nothing tastes as good as safety feels. Wishing you a happy and safe Thanksgiving.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman