November 10, 2020

3 Things COVID Can’t Take Away

Last year, I wrote about the perils of holiday perfectionism. Little did I or any of us know that a few months later—a time that now seems so unreachable, impossibly innocent—the world would be hit with Covid-19. Covid-19: a virus that seems prone to spread in the intimacy of a household setting, among family members. A virus the prevention of which has relegated us to quarantine, isolation—that has led us to cancel weddings and parties, or to feel conflicted about the gatherings we do allow ourselves, conducting them outdoors wearing masks or behind closed doors, in secret. 

How now can we celebrate this holiday season without putting ourselves and the people we love in danger? And yet—how can we not celebrate the holiday season in a year that has allowed us to enjoy so little? As a psychologist, I’m a mental-health expert; recommendations as to how—or whether—to safely get together in groups are best left to other websites, other experts. 

What I can offer you are these three things you can enjoy this holiday season irrespective of Covid-19—three things no virus, quarantine, or regional restriction can take away from you. Whenever you feel down and your mind starts chattering about all the fun you’re missing out on, pick an item from this list and focus on it. As we’ve learned from positive psychology, focusing on what you’re grateful for—on what you have and can rather than on what you lack and cannot—markedly improves mental health. So here goes! Think of this as my early holiday present to you.

  1. Holiday Songs. One of the most magical facets of the holiday season are the songs recorded by some of the most soothing voices of the American musical tradition. Have you ever tried feeling anxious while listening to Nat King Cole sing O Tannenbaum? I dare you to be upset—“upsot?”—about  anything when Barbra Streisand’s banging out her version of Jingle Bells. This music is here for you, no matter what your spiritual tradition. Use it. The simple lyrics and well-worn melodies will remind you of not only years gone by but the promise of years to come. Just like Frosty, we’ll all be back again someday.
  1. Holiday Cheer. If you’re the kind of person who loves to make your house into a holiday wonderland, you’re in luck—because your house is one place you definitely get to be this holiday season. No matter how hard Covid-19 has been on your financial picture, strands of twinkle lights are available for a few dollars at the hardware store, and time-worn traditions like stringing popcorn and lighting candles are within reach for all of us. If you have children, you can also do what one of my clients did and cut out colored paper in holiday-themed shapes—leaves, candy canes, snowflakes—and write things you’re grateful for on each one, then scatter them around the house. Every time you see one of these reminders of the joy and bounty in your life, your spirits will rise. 
  1. Love. Even if you can’t be together, love will always remain. This is a tricky one for some of us who may have lost loved ones to this virus or to other causes in the midst of this trying year. Even if someone you love has died, that love lives on, too. Put photos around your house of your loved ones and remind yourself of their presence. Schedule video calls with the living; light candles and say prayers for the dead. Reflect on the relationships that matter to you and find a way to express your feelings. Send a card, mail a gift, sing a song, send a video of yourself doing something goofy. No virus can take away your love. 

There are other things I didn’t include on this list because they aren’t available in abundance—or at all—for some of us, and if they’re available to you then please know how fortunate you are. One of the biggest of these is food. Holiday food will be a pleasure for many of us this season, but for others, food is sadly not a given. If you’re blessed to have a bounty on your holiday table, please give thanks for it—and, where possible, share. This has been a terribly hard year for all of us. If you’re among those who have the capacity to lighten the burden of others, wouldn’t this be a wonderful time to reach your hand out and give? And if you’re one of those who needs that hand to reach out, may you find all the blessings you need and more.