As 2020 comes to a close, it’s okay to let out a long, deep sigh. For most people, this year has been tumultuous, difficult, and exhausting. And as the holidays arrive, we might need to find creative ways to navigate this season as well. While this time of year is generally seen as a time for celebration, the holiday season can amplify feelings of sadness or isolation. I don’t know all the hardships you have faced this year personally, but I do know that many people have experienced (and are actively experiencing) grief, loneliness, stress, fear, dread, numbness, disappointment, burnout… and so on. 

Three Ways to Navigate the Holidays: Pandemic Style

So, what if we just allowed these emotions to be here with us? What would happen if we took a few deep breaths, and tried to practice acceptance, even just for a moment? We might be able to acknowledge our own experiences and feelings for what they are: human. I’m not saying you should accept the atrocities that happen in our world; I’m offering an idea to simply recognize and normalize your natural human reactions and emotions to those hardships.

Here’s the thing about acceptance: sometimes it makes a little more room in our lives, in our minds, in our hearts for other things to arise. Sometimes, practicing acceptance can allow our worries to soften, so different feelings and thoughts can arrive and settle in. And, let’s just be honest, being in a state of acceptance isn’t always available to us; that’s real. But when we take time to accept “what is”, we can oftentimes make space for “what is possible”. This holiday season, we might want to usher in feelings of respite, gratitude, pleasure, connectedness, introspection, playfulness, hope, stillness, creativity, curiosity, or trust. This is possible.

All of this to say: it’s okay to feel what you feel and try to cultivate rest and joy into your pandemic holiday season. Without minimizing our real worries and emotions, we can practice acceptance and presence. We are capable of holding a multitude of opposing or complementary experiences within ourselves. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re a one-dimensional being, because chances are, you’re not. We can be vast and multi-layered and unique, in our own ways. 

So with this in mind, how might we navigate the holiday season this year, well into 2021? What do we even have to celebrate? How can we find a sense of groundedness, during a time of so much uncertainty? How do we stay connected, when we feel secluded and withdrawn?

Here are my personal tips for navigating the holidays this year, pandemic style:

1. Be Kind to Yourself

There’s a reason why this is in the number one spot: because if being loving and compassionate to yourself is the only thing you do this holiday season, you’ve done enough. Allow yourself to let go of any other expectations, and simply tend to your own needs in reasonable ways you can manage. You might try to bolster and strengthen your inner loving voice that tells you, “It’s okay to rest. Take a moment to just breathe. Celebrate the small joys. I love you. You look beautiful today! You are a caring and courageous person. I believe in you.”

To help offset the mountains of stress this year has provided, take a few moments each day to practice self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it’s a nourishing meal, a hot bath, a brisk walk outside, a quick phone call with a friend that turns into laughter therapy, a 5-minute stretching session. Take time out of your daily schedule to show yourself care and attention. These types of activities can offset the stress response brought on by isolation and other stressors, by producing positive endorphins along with serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals associated with feelings of joy, appreciation, and admiration. 

2. Find Ways to Cultivate Connection

Take some time to explore and recognize what you want to feel connected to this season. You might value feeling connected to your friends, your family members, your partners, your children, your pets. Or you might want to cultivate your connection to nature, the planet, to religion or spirituality, to physical movement, to your inner self, and so on. Whatever it is, carve out some intentional time this holiday season to feel connected. 

For many of us, we’ll be seeing people virtually this season through the wonders of technology. Maybe you can utilize a tech platform that allows you to play board games, take a yoga class, or watch a movie together with a group of friends or family online. To stay connected with folks that don’t have access to the internet, make phone calls and send holiday postcards in the mail. Getting a letter from a friend is a special form of happiness.

Lift the veil of isolation and get inventive with the ways you connect. Maybe you’ll be inspired to support local groups who are providing sustenance to those in need through relief funds or food drives. Or, maybe you’ll spend time outside to cultivate your connection to nature. Research shows that being in nature increases our relaxation response by promoting our parasympathetic nervous system activity, known as our “rest and digest” state. We are all in dire need of this, believe me! And, being in nature lowers our cortisol levels and pulse rates, while boosting overall positive feelings and mood. Yes, even when it’s freezing cold outside.

3. Create Your Own Traditions

This year we have the chance to create our own traditions, and also shift the way we practice customs in a socially distanced and safe way. Take some time to reflect on rituals you would like to implement this season. They might be simple traditions, like lighting Advent candles, making paper crafts with your kids, taking a snowy walk, donating to a local charity, building a Winter nature altar, or doing some festive baking. If you’re alone this season, what might you do for yourself that you’ve never had time for in past holidays?

You may want to prepare a special meal, have a devotional night of prayer, watch a particular movie or read a book, or enjoy holiday songs and music. You might spend some time engaging with your ancestral, familial, or spiritual rituals. Creating traditions is a way to mark time and celebrate what we are grateful for. And, rituals offer us a grounding practice that can allow us to feel strengthened and resilient in the face of uncertainty and change.

Above all else, it might be nice to just let go of effort, let go of any force. The most vital thing to remember is that you do not need to do a single thing during a pandemic (and maybe you shouldn’t) other than follow the guidelines of staying healthy and safe. Let’s raise a glass and make a toast to each other, to our collective strength, and to our hopes and prayers for a healthy world and for a better year for everyone in 2021.

In Community, 

Kayla Czysz