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    Planning for the Covid-Christmas...

    Written by:  Emily McRae, Health Psychologist, PGDipHealthPsych, MSc

    The year 2020 has certainly not been an easy one. For many, it has been their hardest yet. In the year of ‘Covid’, we have faced, and continue to face, significant changes to our lives we never thought possible. Things such as lockdowns, face masks, social distancing or working and schooling from home really have become the norm. As this tough year starts to draw to a close, however, our minds are starting to shift to Christmas. In particular, what will a ‘Covid Christmas’ look like?

    Although we often complain about the pre-Christmas “rush” and overwhelming stress, for the most part, many of us do love Christmas and what it represents. A coming together of friends and family over a shared meal, and perhaps one or two gifts. And, for many, Santa – and this being particularly more relevant now that you are a parent.

    However, as it draws nearer, many of us are naturally starting to worry about ‘The Covid Christmas’ and what this will mean for us. For those who are currently in a lockdown, you may naturally start to question if you will even be out of a lockdown during Christmas.Those out of a lockdown may be equally worried about going back into one. In a world where social distancing is the new norm, how do we go about engaging in our normal Christmas traditions? How do we even begin to celebrate?

    The sting of the ‘Covid Christmas’ might be particularly heightened for you if this is your first Christmas as a parent. Equally so, you may also have older children for whom this is a very magical time and you are balancing their disappointment with your own. If you feel this way, you are not alone. It is entirely appropriate to be worried, or disappointed, that things are not quite normal for Christmas 2020.

    However hard this feels (and it is okay for this to feel hard), there are some ways you can help to ‘soften the blow’.

    As always, at the outset it is really important that you acknowledge how you feel and allow yourself to feel sad, worried, disappointed or even frustrated and angry (or however else you’re feeling). It is always important to give yourself the room and space to feel these normal emotions. So often when we try to suppress or get rid of these feelings, we engage in activities that are rarely health-promoting. For example – eating more junk food or drinking more alcohol. When we give ourselves ‘permission’ to feel these ways, it can help stop (or even reduce) our natural inclination towards these behaviours.

    Following from this, in the face of a hard year, it is really important to sit down and consider what is important to you at Christmas time. That is, what is it that you truly value about Christmas? Taking a values-based approach to Christmas 2020 might be the thing that helps take the sting away the most.

    So often we can make ourselves believe that it is the enormously large family gatherings that make Christmas so special, but when we dig deeper often it is not. While this might be part of what makes Christmas wonderful, there are equally other special aspects to Christmas.

    Christmas is a time where we suspend disbelief and embrace magic. As parents, we really get to ‘play the part’ and we love doing this. We love the anticipation our children go to bed with on Christmas Eve. We love seeing the joy on our children’s faces when they open gifts from Santa. We love the time away from work, and where we can ‘just be’ and engage with people that we love. We love that it is a time where values such as gratitude and kindness come into play. An opportunity to give thanks for all we have; and to show others just how much we care. When we stop and evaluate the importance of Christmas, and what it is that we really value at this time, we can start to see how Covid cannot really take that away.

    The magic can still exist. We can still ‘play the role’ and build excitement for our children. We can still express gratitude for those who have helped us. We can still have time away from work, and ‘just be’. We can still experience the joy.

    Part of achieving this will also be about being adaptable; and this is something that 2020 has certainly taught us. It is about looking at how we can engage with others in a way that feels meaningful and special. Perhaps our ‘Zoom’ calls could be at the Christmas dinner table? Or perhaps you could send a special letter to someone who has been helpful to you this year? It is entirely possible that a letter in the post might be the most meaningful gift they have received from you yet. Or you may want to get together as a community and put Christmas decorations in your windows for children to walk past and see, and, by doing so, creating a wonderful community experience. It is about being creative and looking for opportunities that we didn’t know were there.

    In addition to this, it is also about managing your expectations and being realistic about what this Christmas can deliver. If you are living in a place where Covid levels are high, it might be about accepting that Christmas will look different this year. And, once you can accept this, focusing in on what you can do to make it special. When we spend a lot of time focusing on what is taken away from us, or what we can’t do, this can only serve to make us feel a lot worse. Often, when we focus in on the negative, we fail to see opportunities in front of us – and ways we can still make it special.

    There is absolutely no doubt that 2020 has been a very, very, tough year. A global pandemic has shaped our world, and our lives, in ways we never thought imaginable. But from hardship can come growth. When we stand up in these hard times, we can start to see more clearly what is in front of us. What is truly important. That is our family, our happiness and our wellbeing. Oh, and a little bit of magic. And that is certainly still there for the taking.

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    About the Author

    Emily is a Health Psychologist (NZ Registered) with a decade of experience in psychology. Emily runs a health and wellness website - thewellhub.co - where she provides online support to enhance psychological wellness. Emily also assesses and supports patients prior to surgery at a private hospital in New Zealand. Emily is a mother to three young children - Archie (5) and twins - Eli & Sienna (3) and lives in Auckland, New Zealand.