This year is like no other. The year 2020 has brought with it a myriad of challenges, including the difficulties that come with battling a pandemic. And with this challenge, we’ve had incredible difficulties related to the holidays and Christmas and what to do or not to do. Should I be around my 12 family members on Christmas morning? What if someone coughs? What if I’m a teacher and I’m around a bunch of kids? Does that mean I need to avoid my family? What if my mother starts drinking too much? What if I’m alone? There are so many questions and so many uncertainties.

And, aside from experiencing a pandemic, the holidays can already be so difficult! As an Atlanta counselor, I know that this is true. I see so many people that talk about how difficult it is to be around their dysfunctional families, or to feel the loss of a special family member who isn’t present for the holidays. And so, we normally talk about coping with this and moving through it. And now, we add another layer….a pandemic.

So, with all of that in mind, this Atlanta counselor would like to encourage you to absolutely 100% prioritize some basic needs, connection, and self-care. Here’s some tips:

  1. Get good sleep, good nutrition, and movement (exercise.) These are needs for your body, and when you keep them balanced they help regulate chemicals in your body and therefore prioritize your mental health. Please please please, listen to this Atlanta counselor. These items are important!
  2. Connect. This one is a challenge during a pandemic. But, use the free version of zoom if you need to. Or use the phone. Or do whatever you can to create connections. They may look different this year, but it won’t be like this every year.
  3. Look for ways to self-soothe. Maybe wrap in cozy blankets, take a hot bath, etc. Your body may be on high alert due to the stress of there being a pandemic, so it can help to take moments to help calm it.
  4. Look for new traditions that might bring interesting/fun/enjoyable memories. Maybe you make pancakes you like on Christmas morning. Or maybe you string popcorn. Make a dance routine to your favorite Christmas song. Write letters to people who are in nursing homes. Maybe you sing Christmas carols, or you call people and do a virtual Christmas caroling event (like singing to them on the phone rather than showing up to their door and Christmas caroling.) You get the idea. Look for opportunities that may be special even if they’re not what you would normally do.
  5. Set boundaries with yourself and others. This may be a tough one this year because different people are responding to pandemic responses in different ways and your response may look different than others. And that’s okay. Set some boundaries with yourself when you need to. Maybe that boundary is that you choose to wear a mask, or stay 6 feet away, or choose not to people please when you normally would, or force yourself to stay within budget for presents. In similar ways you may need to set boundaries with others. Maybe you tell your mother you are only staying for 2 hours, or you choose not to explain why you’re wearing a mask for the 15th time, or you decide not to drink alcohol with your uncle even though you normally would because you have to drive home. Boundaries often serve to protect us and others in relationships, so thinking about this ahead of time and planning for setting boundaries is a great idea.
  6. Manage your expectations. This year may look different in so many ways. For some, finances are a challenge. For some, they’re being super cautious with being around others. Others, are living their lives how they normally would. It can be difficult if our expectations of how the holiday should go are rigid. So, this year may take some flexibility from you in terms of what you’re expecting from yourself and others. Consider what might be realistic. Consider what might be safe. Consider what might be healthy, and be ready to pivot when things don’t go the way you expected.