We are living through a stressful, complicated, and emotionally taxing time of year—all in the midst of a world health crisis. To reduce my anxiety, I streamline and simplify. Here’s how I’ve addressed the stressors of past holidays, plus what I am doing now to reduce my tension in this particular season of uncertainty.
I’m certain that January 1, 2021, will follow December 31, 2020. But that’s all I am certain about this holiday season. As a working mom, simplifying the holiday season became necessary years ago. However, even some of our simple holiday rituals will be jettisoned this year, on account of the world health crisis.
One of my first holiday simplification strategies a few years back was to stop sending Christmas cards. Actually, I used to send New Year’s cards since not everyone on my list celebrated Christmas. Relieving myself of that ritual was akin to removing a 50-pound chunk of coal from my back.
Purchasing an artificial Christmas tree and going easy on the ornaments was another strategy. By age seven or so, my son, entirely on his own, was able to put the tree together, set up the lights, and start hanging the decorations.
#2 Lowering My Expectations
During the end-of-the-year break, my children and I usually drive to the mountains to see the snow. They snowboard while I write. This year, that most likely won’t happen. We’ll have to settle for holiday walks and get our snow experience by watching the documentary Amazing Snow.
There are several neighborhoods within a few miles that provide the perfect backdrop for walking around and gazing at Christmas lights. Our favorite walk takes us through Naples, a neighborhood in Long Beach, CA, built on three islands divided by canals that open into Alamitos Bay.
The homes overlook the canals and are generally decorated from Thanksgiving until early January, which means we don’t have to worry about crowds. Not only do we get to see impressive houses spectacularly decorated for the holiday season, but we get to stroll alongside the water.
We usually take this walk with friends. We should be able to maintain our physical distance and pull off a little bit of socializing.
#3 Planning Basic Activities & Mini Family “Projects”
Holidays are made special by spending time with friends and family, but there won’t be a whole lot of getting together in person this holiday season. We won’t be stopping by different friends’ homes due to the public health risk. So, it will be important to plan simple activities between Christmas and New Year’s Day:
It’s been a long time since we listened to all of our Christmas CDs. I will plan for us to listen to one each day, perhaps while making dinner. After dinner, I will ask my son to play a couple of holiday-themed songs on his guitar.
My son’s in college now, but the three of us used to plan cleaning sessions. In an hour and a half, three people hustling can get impressive results. Boredom turns cleaning into an appealing activity, and I’m hoping for a holiday cleaning session. Cleaning up after dinner doesn’t count. I’m talking floors and walls and shower tiles.
The three of us pitch in to make the big holiday meals together. For the other days, we can take turns planning dinners. The person who comes up with the recipe cooks, and the other two clean.
If I can relax enough to wing making some 90-second habits-that-help-you-fight-depression videos, I can take advantage of having a cameraperson (my son) in the house. Of course, planning the videos is the easy part. Getting in front of the camera is the hard part.
#4 Connecting, Somehow
Making a list of the relatives and close friends with whom to connect between Thanksgiving and the end of the year will ensure that we do touch base with each other, whether it be over the phone, through teleconference, or through email.
I also feel as if I need to connect with myself because so much has changed in my professional life this year. It’s been a long time since I dumped my raw feelings onto paper. I don’t mean writing. I have been writing in journals since high school. I mean stream-of-consciousness scribbling. I’m going to set aside a spiral notebook for the last few weeks of the year to help me surrender my anxiety.
#5 Making a Gratitude Poster
Keeping a gratitude journal has given me an eye toward appreciating the small things that bring me joy, even if just for a moment. This practice helps take me out of my head and into the present moment. During the Great Recession, after failing to land yet another full-time job, I printed out a list of six significant things for which I was grateful and posted that list on the refrigerator door.
The world health crisis merits a gratitude poster, which I plan to made and illustrated during Thanksgiving week.
#6 Practicing the “Smile and Nod”
Thanksgiving dinner found six of my family members seated on folding chairs in our backyard. We were bundled up and physically distanced. For Christmas, there could be eight of us, or just the three of us, depending on factors related to the CDC’s health and safety guidelines.
Since the start of 2020, time has taken on a different quality. Due to the variety of daily activities during previous times, my interactions with family members ran on autopilot and faded into the background. Now there’s too much white space in which to expose painful differences. Sticking with small talk works best. Or, as my daughter says, “Smile and nod.”
Sasha Kildare, a feature writer, speaker, and educator, is also the author of the upcoming memoir and information guide Intact: Untangle the Web of Bipolar Depression, Addiction, and Trauma. Her blogs about storytelling can be found at DrivenToTellStories.com, and you can find her on Twitter @sashakildare and Instagram @sashakildare562.
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