We can picture the Hallmark movie scenes — magical moments under lights, cozy evenings beside crackling fires and tables laden with treats.
For many of us, the holidays do include those precious traditions and joyful celebrations. And, behind the scenes, this season can also trigger grief, financial stress and family pressures. This year, we’re experiencing those emotions after 20 months of pandemic uncertainty.
“After living for so long in a sense of crisis, we’re all tired. Research shows us that major events like COVID will continue to negatively affect our mental health much longer than we expect. The holidays, and the end of another year in the pandemic, might trigger some big emotions,” says Lori Prediger, manager of Human Services and Innovation with the County’s Family and Community Services.
If you’re feeling a mix of anticipation and anxiety this December, remember it’s not unusual — and there are some practical ways to move forward with some of the calm we keep hearing about in those holiday songs.
1. Acknowledge where you’re at
Even prior to the pandemic, this time of year was challenging for many. In 2015, over 60 per cent of adults interviewed by Healthline reported feeling stress during the holidays. Now, the typical concerns around finances and family are met with health worries and restrictions to help us gather safely.
As you head into the holidays, take an intentional, quiet moment to reflect on your mental health and what boundaries you need to put in place to take care of yourself. Be honest with yourself about how the pandemic may affect your usual capacity for commitments, and acknowledge any signs of burnout that might keep you from feeling like your best self.
2. Set realistic expectations
Once you’ve checked in with yourself, look for gaps between your expectations and your capacity. If you dream of the perfect turkey dinner, an extravagantly decorated tree and handmade gifts for the whole family, adjust your expectations for what’s actually realistic.
It’s positive to want to celebrate this season, so find practical ways to safely spend time with loved ones. Setting realistic expectations allows you to remain present in the moment, and not get stuck feeling guilty if life gets messy despite best-laid plans. And, make sure to communicate your decisions to loved ones with their own expectations for the season.
3. Hold space for conflicting emotions
It can be difficult to hold conflicting feelings, but if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can experience both joy and grief, anxiety and hope, and all kinds of other feelings.
This holiday season, allow yourself to feel a range of emotions, without judging them. And when those complex emotions arise, know some small, simple practices that help you take care of yourself — whether that’s a walk, a nap or sticking to a morning routine.
4. Ask for help
If you’re feeling down this time of year, the general atmosphere of holiday cheer can be especially isolating. For many, this season brings up grief over lost loved ones, loneliness if you’re estranged from family or other complicated feelings. You’re not alone.
Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or find a professional listening ear through the County’s Family and Community Services support team. Call 780-464-4044 during business hours to talk through anything from financial stress to parenting questions to grief.
This story is part of our community recovery work to encourage empathy and connection as we continue to face COVID-19.