Real Strategies For Coping With The COVID-19 Holiday Season

By Lauren Presutti

Everything feels exhausting and we’re sick of the pandemic, but there’s no need to be a Grinch this holiday season. Below are some strategies that will actually help you cope in healthy ways.

First, let go of the things you can’t control.

What We Can’t Control

  • How long this pandemic will last.
  • What will happen next in the news.
  • If others are following the rules of social distancing.
  • If others are wearing masks or using hand sanitizer.
  • Other people’s holiday decisions or motives.
  • How others will react to our holiday decisions.

What We Can Control

  • We can make informed decisions on our own holiday plans.
  • We can limit news consumption and practice more self-care.
  • We can focus on quality time with family (maybe virtually).
  • We can control how we react and cope with disappointment.
  • We can control how we problem-solve to modify plans.
  • We can use open communication with family and friends.

Adjust your expectations with an open mind and maintain flexibility.

We might need to adjust our expectations this holiday season and have a more open mind. Many times with clients, I talk about having a “fixed fantasy mindset” – this type of mindset means that we are not flexible in our thinking, but rather our mindset is fixed (or rigid) and we are so focused on a fantasy that we struggle to accept reality. For example, if you have a fixed fantasy mindset about this holiday season, you may be telling yourself that it is going to be perfect, you’re going to do everything right, everybody will be in agreement, there won’t be any misunderstandings, and everything will be blissful and easy to navigate. Let me break this down for you. That’s not going to happen.

It would be great if that were true, but holding onto a fixed mindset that does not allow room for flexibility in what is actually going to happen will hurt us in the long run. The reality is that things are probably not going to be perfect this holiday season. There probably will be misunderstandings among people that have different opinions about safety. People are probably going to experience disappointment and go through periods of ups and downs. It’s important to adjust our expectations for what this holiday season will look like so that we don’t set ourselves up to be in a state of crisis when reality does not meet our expectations.

Look at the big picture of what is important.

It’s critical to look at the big picture of what is important. In the grand scheme of things, individual health and safety is more important than holiday traditions. I know this can be difficult to accept, especially because following CDC recommendations for safety sometimes means that we are giving up things that bring us joy. It’s hard to accept because sometimes when we practice safety precautions, it’s difficult to see an immediate reward from that behavior. For example, if we decide not to have a large family gathering this year, our disappointment might overshadow any benefit to our decision. But we have to keep the bigger picture in mind. Following CDC recommendations and modifying our holiday traditions to keep everyone safe is going to propel us forward in our fight against the pandemic.

Identify faulty thinking and challenge your perceptions.

We must notice how we are talking to ourselves and others about this holiday season. If you notice yourself having negative perceptions, try to identify if you have any faulty thinking. One example of faulty thinking is when we predict the outcome of a situation without giving it a chance. For example, when we predict that a situation is going to be negative without even experiencing that situation, we bring a negative mindset into the experience and we are more likely to have a negative experience because we are already predicting it to be negative. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, if we say “the holiday season will be ruined,” we are more likely to feel negative and hostile about our holiday plans this year, and that can make us feel depressed and disappointed, which takes away the possibility of our holiday plans turning out well. On the other hand, if we practice reminding ourselves that we can adapt and we can get through this, we will be more likely to have a positive mindset going into those experiences and chances are we are going to experience more joy.

Another example of faulty thinking is when we think in black-and-white terms, or “all or nothing” thinking. We might say, this holiday activity is going to be amazing or it’s going to be horrible. That’s an example of looking at something is either all good or all bad. But the reality is that nothing is ever all good or all bad. There are always gray areas and opportunities to find both positives and negatives in our experiences. So even if we experience a holiday activity that turns out to feel very disappointing in some way, try to focus on the positives that you can pull out of it. If nothing else, what did you learn from that experience? What can you take away from that experience that didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to? How can you practice flexible thinking instead of rigid “all or nothing” thinking?

Faulty thinking can also include making assumptions without having all the information. It’s really important this holiday season to have open communication with our family and friends about their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Avoid making assumptions about what other people’s expectations are. Make sure that you’re getting all the information instead of assuming that you know how other people feel. This approach will make the holidays much more manageable and more stress-free.

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