How to Enjoy the Holidays

| November 12, 2020

Our feelings about the holidays we celebrate are very personal.   

They can cause us to feel awe, joy, sorrow, ambivalence, or any combination of these complex and full-hearted emotions. 

2020 is even more fraught than most years, given COVID-related restrictions on travel and large gatherings. 

No matter how you feel, consider the following tips which can help you enjoy your holidays as much as possible. 

An important cultural note: We’re publishing this piece in November, which traditionally kicks off the American “holiday season,” stretching from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. This period includes multiple cultural and religious occasions from a variety of traditions.

But the advice in this post can apply to any holiday season at any time of year.

Reflect on what is important to you.

This aspect of holiday planning may change over time, and that’s OK. 

But thinking about what you want will help you make thoughtful choices about who you would like to spend time with and how you would like to spend that time. It’s hard to plan a meaningful holiday if you don’t determine ahead of time what will give it meaning to you.

During the pandemic, one of your considerations should be how COVID-safe any gathering might be. You should value your own health, along with that of your family and your community, when making decisions about travel and gatherings.  

Make a plan as early as possible.

Try to plan at least one activity that is important to you for each holiday that you celebrate. Feel free to initiate with family and friends, and consider non-traditional activities. Making a plan well in advance can give you something to look forward to and help you feel a greater sense of control. Just make sure that any and all plans are COVID-safe.

It’s also a good idea to communicate your plans to relevant parties in a timely manner, especially if what you’re doing is a departure from years past. Give your loved ones a chance to feel some understandable disappointment and adjust their plans accordingly. Planning a virtual gathering with the folks you usually see in person is a great way to feel some emotional (if not physical) togetherness. 

Communicate clearly how others can support you.

Ask for and accept offers to help with holiday-specific tasks (shopping, decorating, cooking, etc), or regular responsibilities (school, work, childcare etc) that become harder during busy seasons.

Some people may not know how best to help, especially if your needs and desires have changed from last year. Most people are happy to help if they understand clearly what you want and they have enough time to provide the support. 

Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Try your best to balance enjoying your favorite holiday treats with nutritious food choices. Make time to relax and restore your energy. Your endurance will be better if you can stick to your daily routine as much as possible, including exercise, getting enough sleep, and your favorite spiritual practices.

During the pandemic, basic COVID safety precautions are a central part of a healthy lifestyle. Wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing, and monitor and report any COVID symptoms. 

Manage your spending.

It’s easy to feel the pressure of consumerism on special occasions, and the COVID pandemic has had a negative financial impact on a lot of us. Decrease your financial stress by making and sticking to a budget. 

Thoughtfulness need not come with a hefty price tag. Gift solutions include reducing the total number of gifts you give; initiating a gift exchange; donating to a favorite charity in lieu of presents; and providing gift certificates for household chores, a home-cooked meal, or time together.

Gift cards for small amounts are also a great way to balance generosity and thriftiness. The receiver will enjoy thinking of you as they enjoy a cup of coffee or a music download “on you.” 

Monitor alcohol and medications, individually and together.

It’s easy to overindulge in alcohol during celebratory times. Moderation is key to maintaining your balance and emotional well-being.

If you do not usually drink alcohol, consider beforehand how alcohol and your medications may interact, especially if you’re taking a new medication or an increased dose. Maintain your daily medication schedule. Missed doses can cause you to feel less than your best or, worse, cause a medical issue that requires emergency care.

If you need any help managing your alcohol (or any other substance) consumption, during the holiday season or at any time, you can reach out to a health educator.

Also, make sure you have an appropriate supply of any prescriptions. During seasons when doctors’ offices and pharmacies have limited hours, it can be tough to get a refill on short notice. This advice is especially true if you plan to travel and won’t be able to go to the pharmacy where you usually pick up your medications. 

Manage your expectations for family gatherings.

When multiple generations and multiple families celebrate together, it can be challenging to feel heard and understood. Be clear about what you need the most, and then be flexible about the rest. 

If challenges arise, be ready to contact friends and other resources to ensure you get the support you need.

This year, COVID safety discussions should be a part of any family gathering planning It’s important to stay vigilant; check out our previous post about COVID-safe activities. 

Adapt traditions as needed.

Given the COVID pandemic, hardly anyone has been able to celebrate holidays in the exact same way they have in years past. But there is joy to be found in trying new things. A big celebration may be pared down or reimagined as a virtual event. If you participate in religious traditions, they might look different, too. Think about ways you can honor your faith that aren’t necessarily centered on large in-person gatherings of worshippers.

If you’re spending your holiday in a new place, each city and country has its own unique traditions, even accounting for COVID-related changes and cancellations. Do some research and plan to participate in celebratory activities that will make you feel comfortable and happy. Introduce your friends to some of your cultural expressions, and reach out to loved ones who may be physically far away but are still close to your heart.

Get in touch with people in the area where you will be (classmates, friends, advisors) and let them know that you’ll be in town. You may be invited to a local event or celebration that balances COVID safety with the universal human need to connect with others. You could also take the initiative and plan a COVID-safe event for your local friends and acquaintances yourself. 

Reflect on what went well and improvements you’d like to make for next year.

Were there unexpected joys during this highly untraditional year, or did the COVID disruption make the value of your longstanding traditions even more apparent? Either way, take time to examine what went well and what didn’t, and use it to inform next year’s celebrations.

As always, seek professional help if you need it.

Some key Hopkins mental health resources are available below.