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8 Priceless Gifts to Reduce Holiday Stress During the Pandemic

December 2, 2020

Submitted by: Dr. Najmun Riyaz, Jefferson Health – New Jersey Psychiatrist

It’s that time of year again, and being a psychiatrist, I often see how the holidays can be challenging for many people, especially those with anxiety or traumatic backgrounds. Now, more than ever, the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic is stirring unwanted emotions.

I come from the Muslim faith, and we recently celebrated our holiday of Eid in May, when the pandemic was at its peak. Grief and anxiety had reached an overwhelming level, which I had never seen before, even though I come from a conflict-ridden hometown.

Our holiday, like any other, can become pretty stressful during planning. This year, besides the typical stress, it felt unusual. I decided to do something different with my family. Instead of focusing on the routines and regimens of the day, we chose to pay attention to the values. It ended up being much more relaxing and enjoyable than we ever expected.

These priceless gifts of mindfulness can be implemented for any holiday celebration. To help make your holiday more memorable, try the following:

1: Gift of Awareness:

Let us increase our awareness of the fact that we are in a very unusual time. We are all experiencing similar emotions. We are all struggling in some way or another. We are all feeling very unsure and uncertain of the present situation and the future, which causes anxiety. Try to remember and reassure yourself that this time too – like every other stressful time – shall pass.

2. Gift of Purpose:

Let us reflect on why we celebrate – the real purpose and spirit behind our holidays. Share with your children and families the real stories behind these holidays. This can help us define a purpose and enjoy even more the traditions we participate in, such as decorating the Christmas tree or lighting the menorah, giving gifts, and cooking certain meals. 

3. Gift of Being in the Present Moment:

Let us give our full attention to whichever activity we are doing, whether it is wrapping presents or preparing food. Each time we sense stress, we should remind ourselves that these are very unusual times, and what we feel is not just the baseline stress of the holiday. Take plenty of breaks to center yourself; take a walk, say a prayer, talk to a friend, or, simply, do nothing.

4. Gift of Gratitude:

Let us be thankful for our daily blessings. We are still able to prepare delicious meals and buy presents, whether online or in stores. Most of all, let us be grateful for the ability to stay safe and warm this holiday season, and to maintain contact with our friends and family, even if it’s only through the screen.

5. Gift of Empathy:

Let us try our best to comprehend the pain of those affected by COVID-19 – for the thousands of lives lost, thousands of people who are still grieving, or those who have not even begun the process yet. We should put ourselves in the shoes of those who have lost their jobs and their homes. Let us also wish the same privileges we have for the many who still live in poverty and go hungry for days.

6. Gift of Simplicity:

Let us practice the long-lost value of simplicity by using less, instead of more. We can keep our gifts simple, yet sincere. We can also limit our dinner menus to just a few foods that everyone enjoys, instead of an elaborate feast. We can wear something that we have worn before, instead of buying new outfits.

7. Gift of Imagination:

Let us revive the power of imagination we used when we were children. Remember when we wondered where Santa comes from and how he brings gifts? Now, we can imagine the future, where we can once again go out to movies, restaurants, and host gatherings. Let us imagine a time, after this pandemic, when we all can come out to greet each other and hug each other without any masks.

8. Gift of Self-Love:

Let us forgive ourselves more often; be as kind to ourselves as we are to others. Let us be OK with not being OK for some time and celebrate ourselves, with all of our shortcomings and strengths.

I hope these simple strategies can help you capture the true essence of the holidays during these troubling times. One day, we will be able to tell our children and grandchildren stories of how life was different during COVID-19.

For now, stay safe, peaceful, and optimistic!  

To learn about Behavioral & Mental Health Services offered at Jefferson Health – New Jersey, click HERE.