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Creating a Memorable COVID Holiday

By Brenda Catchpole with research from Antonio Pellegrino

Imagine five years from now, when you look back on the 2020 COVID holiday season.  You will easily remember it because it is going to be different than every other year.  But will it be a good memory, or a bad one?  To some extent that is up to us, and how we choose to handle this opportunity.  It will take a little effort, but here is a three-step strategy for creating the very best holiday season possible.

  1. What Is Important?

How you develop your holiday plan depends upon your priorities.  What do you love most about the holidays?  Is it the family time? The food? The gifts? Parties with friends?  Outdoor activities? Perhaps you like the quiet time, or maybe the religious significance speaks most to you.  Pick two or three areas you would like to focus on.  (Don’t try to do them all; that would be too much stress!)  For each area you’ve chosen either:

  • develop plans for a COVID-style replacement, or
  • pick a brand-new tradition that satisfies you in a new way! 

2.  Get Planning! 

Once you’ve chosen your 2 or 3 priority areas, get creative and choose your strategies:

  • If a big turkey dinner is the highlight of your holiday, maybe you can cook your traditional feast and drop off meals for friends who will be alone.  Or, with a little more time on your hands, maybe try some challenging new recipes (how about a buttermilk-brined turkey breast, garlic thyme fondant potatoes and a classic French croquembouche?) Maybe you’ll choose a menu based on your ancestry, or a country you hope to visit when travel resumes?
  • If your joy comes from buying perfect gifts for everyone on your list, why not make some gifts? Or, challenge yourself to only buy local.  If you can’t buy the perfect gift now, create stunning homemade gift certificates that promise gift delivery later.  Or, write a personal letter with the promise of doing a specific post-COVID activity together (like a trip to the spa or the movies).
  • If your highlight is the candlelight Christmas Eve service, check out on-line services offered by religious organizations in Winnipeg and around the world. How about mass at Westminster Cathedral? Take time to create your own candlelight “watch party” to make it extra special. 
  • It is hard to replicate a houseful of family or friends if that is your favourite part of the holidays.  However, with time you can figure out how to connect everyone on-line.  Lots of seniors never imagined using technology but they have suddenly learned how to videoconference.  Provide a program to keep things on track – include opening presents, telling jokes, playing games, singing traditional songs, etc.  Make sure everyone has a chance to share what they are grateful for.
  • Many outdoor activities can be modified to be COVID-friendly.  Masking up and going for a walk at the zoo could be the start of a new tradition.  Try a short hike, or if the public health orders allow, maybe a bonfire?  How about a caravan of cars (one per household) to see the Christmas lights followed by virtual hot chocolate to compare favourites?
  • If you love the frenzy of the season, intentionally create a calendar for yourself that is jam-packed with activities.  A little research will uncover on-line concerts and holiday movies. Schedule yourself to do some holiday baking, a jigsaw puzzle, read a novel, and create a holiday ornament to commemorate this strange year.  Make a list of all the friends you would normally see over the holidays and schedule a call with someone different each day.

3. Care for Yourself.

Increased stress levels are a normal response to the pandemic.  And as much as we love the holidays, the preparations and changes in routine can also increase your stress level.  Here are a few reminders of ways to manage that stress and care for yourself:

  • First, recognize that you do need to care for yourself, and make a point of doing it.
  • This is the perfect time to use the strategies you already know:  get moderate exercise, get regular sleep, practice mindfulness or meditation, eat nutritious food, stay hydrated, spend time outdoors, and connect with other humans.  Practice gratitude daily.
  • Remain informed through reputable news sources, but limit exposure to the news to once or twice a day.  Continuous exposure can contribute to anxiety.
  • Practice moderation.  The holidays can lead to overindulgence in food and alcohol, but you can find balance. Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope with anxiety or fear, as they often worsen outcomes.
  • Do not strive for perfection.  You do not live in a Hallmark Christmas movie.  Expect some burnt food, dropped calls, and gifts that don’t fit.  You will forget to do something important.  It is 2020.  Accept that anything can and will happen.
  • Maintain a routine, with regular bedtimes and mealtimes, time for work and rest, and consistent personal hygiene.  Identify a limit for screen time and stick to it.
  • If you need help, ask for it.  It might be something small, like asking a family member to set the table, or it might be more significant like reaching out to a crisis line.  This isn’t the year to tackle everything by yourself.  Identify what you need and simply ask.

The best thing about this holiday season is that we get to decide how we are going to respond to it.  Whether you fill every day with connections and activities, or whether you take the glorious opportunity to unwind and enjoy quiet moments, we wish you a beautiful and joyous time. Make it memorable, and something that still warms your heart five years from now.

References:

Bible, L. J., Casper, K. A., Seifer, J. L., & Porter, K. A. (2017). Assessment of self-care and medication adherence in individuals with mental health conditions. Journal of American Pharmacists Association. 57, 3. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.japh.2017.02.023

WHO. (2020). Healthy at Home – Mental Health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/campaigns/connecting-the-world-to-combat-coronavirus/healthyathome/healthyathome—mental-health?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI-PGQtu-R7QIVqj6tBh0ZUgxVEAAYAiAAEgJRgvD_BwE

Griffin E., Dillon C. B., O’Regan G., Corcoran P., Perry I. J., & Arensman E. (2017). The paradox of public holidays: Hospital-treated self-harm and associated factors. Journal of Affective Disorders. 218. 30-34