The holidays can be a stressful time even under normal circumstances, but the 2021 season seems to be piling on the emotional strain.
Between global supply chain issues and concerns about the omicron coronavirus variant, it’s no wonder many of us are feeling a little extra anxious this year as we try to purchase gifts, plan gatherings and spread some holiday cheer. But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.
We asked mental health experts to share their advice for coping with holiday-season stress this year. Read on for their recommendations.
Consider your priorities.
When you’re feeling stressed about gift shopping and supply chain delays, give yourself a moment to pause and take stock of your priorities around the holiday season. Is buying all the must-have gifts the most important thing to you? Chances are, the answer is no.
“At the end of the day, the holidays are about gratitude and love,” said Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Zinnia Practice in Murrieta, California. “Whether or not you’re able to find all the gifts you want to get, focus on the love around you. Remind your loved ones about the bond that you share and begin to create memories that no supply chain trouble can take away from you.”
If you have children, remember that you set the tone for the holiday season and the lessons they receive about this time of year.
If you celebrate Christmas, “remind kids that Christmas is not just about gift-giving, but a special time to spend together as a family,” said Maryanna Klatt, a professor of clinical family and community medicine and director of integrative medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
She suggested telling your children about your favorite part of the holiday season when you were growing up. Share special memories and teach them about your history.
“This is a great starting place for them to feel a connection with their extended family that may no longer be around,” Klatt said. “Another gift you can give your children this year ― a sense that they are part of something larger than themselves, a teaching moment for the truth about the interconnectedness of being human.”
Focus on what you can control.
Thinking about all the uncertainty regarding the future of the pandemic ― especially in light of the omicron variant ― might feel frightening and overwhelming. But ultimately, that bigger global health picture is not something within your control.
“My advice would be to focus on the here and now, meaning deal with the things that are affecting you directly and try not to focus on what ifs,” said Saniyyah Mayo, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles.
If you’re concerned about your family’s health, ensure that you’re up to date on public health recommendations, like getting COVID-19 vaccinations and booster shots and wearing masks in public spaces.
“Know what your comfort level is when celebrating this year. Opt for small get-togethers if you do not feel comfortable being in a crowd,” Osibodu-Onyali said. “This would be a great time to create boundaries that are comfortable for you.”
Similarly, global supply chain issues are not something you can control, but you do have the power to try to get your holiday shopping done earlier than usual. Get organized with your prep. Additionally, you might spend more time planning a special meal or decorating the tree to bring your holiday vision to life.
“Regarding what you can control, ask yourself, ‘What do I want to be sure happens this holiday season?’” Klatt said. “That way you can focus your attention on what is truly a priority for you and your family.”
Start new traditions.
Rather than focusing on what might be different or more challenging this year, think of this holiday season as an opportunity to try something new.
“If gift-giving plans fall through, this is the perfect year to start a new Christmas tradition,” Klatt said.
She suggested bonding with your family by going caroling in the neighborhood or driving around to look at holiday lights.
“Get Christmas nighties for kids to wear on Christmas Eve,” Klatt said. “Involve kids in the kitchen by passing down a Christmas recipe. Or teach your kids how to ‘be Santa’ by bringing cookies that they baked with you to neighbors who may be homebound this holiday season. This way they can experience firsthand the joy of giving.”
While it’s wonderful to focus on others during the holiday season, don’t forget about your own well-being.
“Make self-care your priority,” Klatt said. “It helps to make a list of calming activities ahead of time that gives you the much-needed break you need among all the holiday chaos.”
She suggested putting some of those self-care activities in your calendar for the coming weeks, to increase the likelihood that you actually do them when you need them most.
Make backup plans.
Ultimately, you might not be able to give your loved ones their prized store-bought items of choice, so it’s worth thinking of some backup options.
“Try to find alternatives for the gifts that you are unable to find, or lean into sentimental gifts this year such as crafts that you make or spending quality time together,” Osibodu-Onyali advised. “What COVID has taught us all is that life is truly precious and we most definitely were not spending enough time together before the pandemic.”
If you’re a parent, talk to your children about the difficulties this year when it comes to their first-choice gifts (even if through the lens of Santa). Have a couple of alternate gifts ready and plan fun holiday activities to reduce the chances of disappointment.
And speaking of disappointment ― Klatt emphasized the importance, and the benefits, of modeling to your children how to deal with it.
“If they see you acknowledge the challenges presented by COVID and its collateral impact, and then, most importantly, they see you move beyond a disappointment to find joy in what can come to fruition this holiday season, this is a gift they will take with them throughout their lives,” she said. “The process of acknowledging the difficulty and yet not allowing it to squash happiness is a gift of a lifetime you can give your children during this 2021 holiday season.”