Stress Free Holidays: COVID-19 Edition
With Thanksgiving tomorrow, and December's holidays not far behind, it's hard to believe the year is coming to an end. Of course, in years' past the Holiday Season is the busiest time of the year for most families. COVID-19 has changed many families usually course this year. Many families are including mask wearing and social distancing in their holiday plans. Others are avoiding getting together in large groups, and are preferring to go the virtual route to celebrate.
Whatever changes your holiday plans have endeavored one thing is still certain, the holidays can bring a lot of stress! From your kids not understanding why they aren't going to grandma's this year to just having to cut back on holiday expenses, this year is rough. How do we cope this all this stress?
Step One: Create your own personal Holiday Stress Tool Box.
Step Two: Use your Holiday Stress Tool Box for the rest of the holidays in 2020, and maybe in future years too!
Holiday Stress Tool Box
In order to reduce stress during the Holidays, you will want to keep your boundaries in check, use direct communication skills, and be sure to have a coping strategy in your back pocket. Include a bit of family bonding activities that are COVID-19 friendly, and you can keep your holiday stress at bay.
Bring up Safety Concerns. Your family wants you to come visit this year, but it leaves you with an uncomfortable feeing. What happens if someone in the family gets exposed to COVID-19? Would that bring up feelings of shame rather than happiness over the holidays? Do what makes you feel safe. Being safe does not only matter to physical health, but emotional health as well. If traveling this year brings up more stress than excitement, it may be easier to connect with family members virtually. Don't feel pressured to 'go with the flow' just because the rest of your extended family is, your household family and your needs are important too. Ask your family members to look at the situation in your shoes and see why you need to stay cautious and safe.
Being Okay with Saying No. So what happens if your family disagrees with you wanting to stay home? You may have to bring up a word that everyone hates to say, but it is totally necessary especially around the holidays - NO! You do not have to go into a page long apology into why you are turning down hosting a dinner, volunteering, or skipping a tradition this year. Saying No by itself means enough. If you would like to give family members your opinion on the reason, you can simply say "I'm not comfortable doing that this year, but I would love to do this instead."
Schedule, Schedule, Schedule. Nothing good comes from just 'winging it' when it comes to holiday events. You may have more video calls this year than normal, more time cramming in movie marathons, or a longer holiday break with your children. Routine helps build structure and makes your days seem less chaotic. Aside from scheduling your family meetings, you can include cooking, down time, and family time into your daily schedule. Check your holiday schedule posted somewhere where all household members can read it. More awareness of a schedule for everyone in the house could lead to less confusion and uncertainty towards obligations.
Don't Try to be the Peacemaker. Is it truly a holiday without disagreements between family members? Whether it be rival opinions on politics, COVID-19, or even sports, arguments can get annoying and heated fast. You don't always have to put yourself in the line of fire just to keep the peace at home. You also don't have to sit there and take criticism if your values are being hurt. Be firm and let your thoughts be known, but balance that without trying to save the whole family. You could say, "I believe we all have different opinions on the topic. If we can't discuss it without yelling, I rather it not be discussed." Or "I understand what you are saying, I don't agree with it, but I still love and respect you."
Being Upfront About Discomfort. Set the stage by telling family members what you are not willing to talk about during holiday time. Doing this will be helpful in experiencing less triggers and hurt at the dinner table. Before you get together, virtually or physically, let everyone know which topics you are not willing to discuss. This can be done through messaging the group, or saying upfront, "This year for my comfort I will not like to discuss, blank, blank, or blank. If these topics arise, please respect that I do not want to participate." You could also state that you would just prefer to focus on the present, or future, rather than the past while conversating.
Let Everyone Have Their Voice Heard. The goal isn't to fight, or win, a conversation but to deepen understanding with one another. Encourage everyone, even kids and teens, to speak up in conversations and to express how they feel. Having children and teens sit on the same conversation level as adults allows everyone to feel excluded. It creates less of a divide among generations, and may bring up some interesting topics.
Coping With Stressors
Develop an Exit Strategy. If things are becoming too overwhelming, allow yourself to take a break and leave the situation. Whether it be taking a few minutes to sit in a different room, to start a conversation with another person, or to suggest switch activities, you have the right to change things up. Acknowledge what may increase your stress levels (such as having too many people in the kitchen or everyone yelling over one another on a call), and let others know when you feel like things are getting escalated. Either remove yourself from the situation, or ask others kindly to give yourself some breathing room.
Don't Aim for Perfection. Everything doesn't have to be holiday related every second, nor do you have to spend sleepless nights making your house look like a magazine. Memories come from experiences that aren't perfect, or situations where a mistake was made but you can laugh about it as a family. Ask household members one thing that is really important to them, that is COVID-19 friendly, that they don't want to miss this year. Work together as a team to make each person's important thing happen. The key is working together, not having the burden fall on only one person. Once those important things occur, or you have a family plan to make it happen, let everything else fall into place. Sometimes the most important part of the holidays is just being present as a family.
Get some Individual Time in Everyday. Take some time each day to spend time alone and to recharge your batteries. Encourage everyone in the family to do a solo activity for about 30 minutes to an hour each day on holiday break. This gives your family time to do something personal to them, but to also have enough energy to regroup as a family later.
Create a New Family Tradition This Year. This year is very unique compared to many past years. Embrace the uniqueness and strangeness of it all and start a new family tradition! Whether it be filming your holiday cards this year, going on a household holiday scavenger hunt, creating holiday themed face masks, or looking up a new dish to create and add to your lineup this year, the possibilities are endless. Ask your household what they think something fun to try this year should be. If you have trouble picking just one ideas, pick two, or put everyone's ideas in a hat to draw out a random idea.
Focus on What Is Happening This Year. The holidays are still happening, and families are still able to make memories this year. There may not be as many parties or events, and everyone may not be able to travel this year, however there are other ways everyone can get together. Focus on the aspect of sharing time together and giving love to one another, even if there is a greater distance this year. Your family is still able to decorate the house, cook the food you have always cooked, and to still express gratitude. Focus on things you can control as a family and most importantly enjoy the little moments.
See Harvest Family Therapy's Instagram Page for more examples of family bonding activities for the Holidays.