The holidays are different this year. Here’s how you can cope — and hopefully find joy

Upset confused man in trouble calling to psychologist on laptop

The holidays and winter are here as well as the broad spectrum of emotions that this time of year brings to the forefront. Usually, we are able to handle the assortment of good and not-so good feelings by relying on our established strategies. These range from attending friend and family gatherings that command an obligatory appearance to joyful reunions to catch-up with loved ones. We developed our holiday patterns to reflect whatever past life experiences we desired to revisit or avoid as part of our tradition. Each person’s life experiences determined how they were going to observe the holiday they celebrated. 

As we celebrate the holidays and look toward the new year, there is an added emotional weight of trying to answer the question of “now what” or “what’s next.” This year the holidays will be — and already have been — very different; not just because we cannot engage with others in established ways but also because there is variability within family and friend networks on the extent that individuals take to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. 

In the year of COVID when all has been disrupted, we each need to get through these months and still honor the traditions that we value and not fall into a path that leads from healthy sadness to depression. At the very least those who suffer from the winter blues know that light box therapy is proven to be beneficial. We are creatures of light and we need light. But there is more to getting through these months than just getting more light. There are key concepts to help you frame your feelings so you can enjoy the holidays and overcome the winter blues.

Curate. COVID-19 may have changed what we do and how we do it but it has also been an opportunity to curate our lives. With limitations in resources, both financial and social, we spent a considerable amount of trying to balance what we want to do with what we could do. The holidays bring to the forefront that plans are just plans; what matters is what you do with what is in front of you now. This starts by being honest with yourself about this season and what it means to you. For certain not everyone is joyful or celebratory. Especially during this season, some feel the losses more acutely of what they have endured in life because they do not have the happy memories that are the essence of the feel-good spirit of the season. Others feel relieved, and are reluctant to admit, that COVID restrictions provided a way for them to avoid activities that they did not want to do. Getting through this time is all about your feelings. To curate means you own what you feel and keep only what is good and essential.

Self Esteem. It all begins with you. You get through the holidays by recognizing that you value yourself and your relationship with others. The importance of this is emphasized by all of the research that documents that the happiest and healthiest people are those who are connected to others. While COVID-19 may have limited live person-to-person meetings; technologies have provided new platforms for people to interact. We may not be able to hold hands at this point but we can move forward together.

Look Forward. To get to a mentally healthier place begin by celebrating that whatever is past, is past. If you have thoughts of regret about what could have been you need to put them aside. Now is the time to move forward and look towards the future. For certain the future will be different even with a vaccine and treatment, because we have had to come to grips with our own and our societies vulnerabilities. To get through the holidays we need to focus on what is most valuable. Looking ahead is your best viewpoint.

This will be a holiday season like none we have ever experienced. We need to celebrate all that we can.

Jane L. Delgado, PhD, MS, is the author of the “Buena Salud Guide— Understanding Depression and Enjoying Life,” Buena Salud Press, 2020 and President and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health.