The festive winter holidays will be different this year. They will look different, you will likely celebrate with different family or friends, or lack thereof, around you, and things that are normally present will be missing. Many of us have built up holiday traditions that started years ago and have continued uninterrupted, until COVID occurred and forced us to change our plans. Is that grief I hear? Yes, for sure, and sadness, and even mental anguish about these unwanted changes. You see, many of us don’t do well when change is forced upon us. And changes due to COVID are for sure things that we cannot control, for COVID seems at times out of reach but is closing in faster and faster on our own little worlds.
That stress or sadness you’re feeling about what your holidays will look like instead of what you want them to look like can be profound. It can pull you into a mental state that has you questioning your priorities in the world, what is most important to you, and identify what consequences you’re able to live with from your decisions. You may feel anger, or sadness, or depression, or even lost. If it gets really bad, you may question the meaning of yourself in the world or of this pandemic in general. This is what grief feels like, and yes, you can feel grief about the loss of your holidays.
Mental Health vs. Physical Health
It seems like right now, there is no “right” decision when you are making plans about Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. You know that you’ve been in virtual isolation for the past 9 months, regardless of how strict you’ve been about limiting social contact, and you are so ready to get back to normal by celebrating the season as usual. Your mental health is likely suffering in various ways, perhaps you’re less motivated to do things, more sad or irritable, or more anxious. Not seeing people face-to-face is definitely impacting how you feel, and you’re ready to risk a little in order to boost your own mental health and those around you. You are leaning towards getting together with others outside of your family to enjoy the holidays the way they should be celebrated.
Conversely, you are also thinking that now is the time of highest risk with COVID. In Colorado, cases are rising daily with no end in sight. Restaurants, bars, and stores are limiting capacity, and schools are moving to remote learning more quickly than you can keep up with. You are being encouraged by public health and state officials to remain Safer at Home and to limit interacting with others outside of your immediate household. You know that you have relatives, friends, or family members in the “vulnerable” category or you’re just worried about contracting COVID yourself. You are ready to make the decision to scrap the holidays all together, stay home and make Chinese food.
What is the Right Decision?
The issue is, there is no right decision about what to do about the holidays. There are various different options of each way that you lean, whether you want to go ahead with normal traditions or just call it a year and continue staying at home. Maybe you do decide to get together with your extended family, including aging parents or grandparents, or the new baby in the family, but you also decide to self-quarantine for 2 weeks prior to the gathering. Or perhaps you just feel safer staying at home with your family or roommates, tucked in and making the most of together time, but you also plan a large virtual Zoom get-together with everyone you’re missing.
The only “right” decision is what is best for you and your family, right now, that balances both your mental health and physical health needs. Once you make your decision, or decisions, then go ahead and embrace what you’ve chosen whole-heartedly. While the holidays this year do look different, there are still many things that will stay the same. And remember, this is only temporary. Next year you can get back to your regular holiday plans, your usual traditions, and large gatherings with friends and family.
Finally, if you need to, indulge your grief for the losses that you’ll have this year about the holidays. Be sad for a moment or two, cry a bit, or get angry at God or your higher power. Don’t keep your emotions in or ignore them. Pretending that everything is the same will not change the world outside of you or the changes that are being made for you. Acknowledge that this year is just different, but it’s also temporary. This, too, shall pass.
How We Can Help
If you are suffering from grief related to COVID-19, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you, follow these simple steps:
Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation
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Here at Catalyss Counseling, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, grief and loss therapy, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, guest blogger, and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.