The nights of Hanukkah are passing by, Christmas is just around the corner, and 2020 will be behind us forever in just a few short weeks. Despite it being what some consider the most wonderful time of the year, it can be difficult to feel holly jolly with all that has gone on this year. EnCircle counselor Emily Olsen, LCP, has five tips to help ease stress and bring some “merry and bright” back to the holiday season.

Give yourself a little break

It goes without saying that this holiday season is different from those of the past. This year has brought a lot of added stress for everyone and complicated holiday plans. There may be a feeling of needing to go big to make up for the many missed experiences of 2020. Emily recommends giving yourself a break by lowering your expectations.

"Maybe one of your traditions is making 12 dozen cookies and delivering them to all of your neighbors. So maybe that may not happen this year, but maybe you can make one dozen and deliver it to one special neighbor, or instead of making them from scratch, you bake break-and-bake cookies where it’s not quite as much expectation on yourself," says Emily Olsen, LPC.

Finding ways to simplify traditions to take the pressure off can strike a balance between doing it and over-doing it.

Step away from social media

Social media has been an important tool this year to stay connected to family and friends while remaining physically distant. Watching funny cat videos on TikTok can be a good way to relax but seeing how others are spending their time may cause negative feelings toward ourselves or others.

"Staying away from the things that may stress us out is important. Social media can be an awesome way to connect with people, but sometimes just seeing what other people are doing can bring us feelings about what we’re missing."

Scheduling video chats with friends and family or sending photos or videos through text messages can be good ways to step away from social media while still connecting with important people in our lives.

Focus on the here and now

It’s easy to get caught up in what won’t be happening this season. There are no big gatherings with friends or family. Past traditions may be broken for the first time. The usual merriment that many look forward to looks different, making it easy to dwell on past. Olsen suggests trying to focus on the moment.

"A lot of times people think about all the different things we’re missing out on, or all the different things we’re not able to do because we’re not able to gather in large groups— that’s a lot of what we do over the holidays. So being able to focus on your immediate family, or being able to focus on your pets, or being able to focus on the people who are there in the moment is so important this year."

Keep up with physical health

There has been a heavy emphasis on wearing masks and washing hands to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but don’t lose focus on other healthy-living habits. "Making sure we’re drinking water, getting outside, getting exercise, and staying healthy is important during these times," says Olsen.

Instead of driving around the neighborhood to look at lights, consider bundling up and taking a walk with the family. Freshen up your water with some festive fruit infusions like cranberry, orange, and cardamom. Try to catch a nap or take a walk on your lunch break — that could be a perk of having to work from home!

Do things that bring you joy

Finding simple things that bring joy is another great way to reduce stress and enjoy the season. It could be as simple as watching a favorite Christmas movie with a cup of hot chocolate or lighting a pine-scented candle while wrapping gifts.

"I know that this time is really hard for a lot of people, but something that can also bring us joy is a sense of purpose or a sense of a bigger picture, and that can also be volunteering," says Olsen.

Volunteering in person may not be an option right now but finding other ways to give back to a special project can still provide the same satisfaction. Donating toys or clothes, collecting food for the local food bank, or getting a bag of food for the animal shelter are good alternatives that help our community.


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The information provided is for recommendation purposes only and is in no way provided as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, and/or treatment. If you are suffering from any mental health needs, we recommend that you seek formal medical advice based on your personal treatment.