Health Matters: Holidays 2020
This holiday season is like no other that most of us have ever experienced. Enjoying a holiday season in the midst of a pandemic with family members who may not be on speaking terms when finances and job security are challenged is likely to be rough. It’s a good time to use something called radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill that is designed to keep pain from turning into suffering. Radical acceptance is NOT approval, but rather completely and totally accepting with our mind, body, and spirit that we cannot currently change the present facts, even if we do not like them. When we begin with acceptance of what we can’t control, we’ll be less anxious, and we can focus on what we CAN do. Here are some ideas to make the next few weeks as peaceful and joyous as possible.
- Accentuate the positive
Resetting expectations and focusing on the good things in your life can help you feel better. Consider starting a gratitude journal or a creating a new daily routine of going around the dinner table and sharing something you are grateful for before beginning the meal. If you’re struggling with the idea of not having a traditional holiday celebration because you cannot see loved ones in person, consider coming together electronically. You can still sing carols, play games, open gifts, and laugh together. And here’s a silver lining for those of you who dread seeing certain relatives each year: you’ve never had a better excuse to skip the family gathering.
- Live and let live
If some family members want to gather in person and others don’t, consider a family pact whereby everyone gets to do whatever is safe and right for them without being judged or made to feel guilty. Once everyone has weighed in, the organizers can get to work creatively integrating everyone who wants to participate. Prioritize long-term relationships over short-term desires. Cultivate peace in the family.
- Loneliness busters
If you will be alone, plan something special for yourself. It could be something you’ve always wanted to do or something that sounds fun or crazy or interesting. Don’t be constrained by tradition. If you can afford to, spoil yourself. If money is tight, plan something that doesn’t cost too much—grab a blanket and enjoy a sunset on the beach, eating a picnic dinner while you watch the waves, listening to your favorite music.
If you don’t want to be alone, look into volunteer opportunities. Locally, the Ukiah Valley Christmas Effort is often in need of help this time of year. For details, visit www.facebook.com/UkiahValleyChristmasEffort or contact President Sheryl Graves at (707) 272-9627 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Other local volunteer opportunities are listed on North Coast Opportunities’ website at www.ncoinc.org.
- Brighten someone else’s holidays
If you know someone who will be alone during the holidays, schedule time to reach out to them. It’s amazing what a powerful impact a simple act of kindness can have on someone’s life, on both the giver and receiver.
- Let go of tradition
Some people love holiday traditions; others don’t. Whether you love them or hate them, you may need to let the social aspect of them go this year. So, do something new and different. Brainstorm safe options and create your own COVID holiday experience. Think outside the box and have some fun. You might discover a new tradition. If a gathering is important to you, consider doing it during the spring or summer solstice, or whenever it is safe to come together again. And do remember that many people cannot afford gift giving this year. Don’t be hurt or judge them.
Remember, humans have experienced all manner of hardship during the holidays before. This pandemic holiday is less about thriving and more about surviving. If someone you love doesn’t accept your invitation to celebrate together, recognize that this may be their ultimate expression of love—to keep you safe. Pour yourself some hot cocoa and think about how lucky you are to be part of a loving family.
What we are experiencing this winter is not easy, but times will improve. If you are anxious or uneasy, do what you can to limit your exposure to the experiences that upset you. Many people find limiting media exposure to be very helpful. If you need someone to talk to this week or next week, consider calling the Mendocino County Warm Line at (707) 472-2311. If you are in crisis, call the Crisis Line (855) 838-0404. If you would like to learn to better manage symptoms associated with depression, anxiety or other conditions, call MCHC Health Centers and schedule an appointment with the Behavioral Health Department at (707) 468-1010.
Serena Jones is a primary care counselor at MCHC Health Centers, a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people in Lake and Mendocino Counties.