The worsening COVID-19 situation, coupled with health officials’ pleas to avoid large gatherings, will have no doubt nixed holiday plans for many, on top of the lingering uncertainty about what may come.
Experts say it’s helpful to set aside feelings of disappointment and, cliché though it may be, to instead focus on what the holiday means to you, and how you would like to be feeling.
For Carolyn Klassen of Conexus Counselling, that begins with taking stock of your emotions.
“Our natural response when we get sad and disappointed, because those are uncomfortable feelings, we quickly transform that into: who can we blame and who can we get angry at? Because that gives us some sort of sense of control,” Klassen says.
“I would invite people to sort of hold the fact that as angry as they are and as much as they want to blame somebody, if they can just peel back that layer and say ‘what’s underneath that?’ There’s grief, there’s sadness, (and) disappointment.”
Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Toby Rutner suggests people look for ways to emulate the positive feelings they associate with the holidays, rather than dwell on their expectations.
“Christmas, for most of us, has been the time of guilt and obligation. And now it’s the time of guilt and obligation and fear,” Dr. Rutner says.
“I think we can divest ourselves from any of those feelings and focus on the kind of Christmas we’d like to have; and that’s staying at home and watching college football, or having dinner by ourselves, or going for a walk … let’s do that. Let’s not focus on what has traditionally been a conventional way of doing it.”
Dr. Rutner adds some people may feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of COVID news, but in the longer term, things may not be as bad as they appear.
“It’s more difficult when we’re getting messages in the media that the end is near and things are getting bad, but we’ve heard that before and we’ve turned a corner and I’m optimistic,” Dr. Rutner says.
“So I think we need to focus in a more optimistic way. We need to be careful in ways that we can determine what is risky and what is safe, and focus on helping ourselves emotionally get through this, because get through it we will.”
In the shorter term, people may be wondering how to cancel get-togethers or uninvite themselves from social functions.
Klassen says it’s natural for the other person to feel slighted, but she says it’s important for both to keep in mind it’s not personal.
“I can make a cup of tea, take a hot minute to figure out what I want to do, what I’m comfortable with, and now I’m going to figure out how with grace to say, ‘I care about you, you matter to me, and because of that, I am making some really difficult choices,'” Klassen says.
“The people in my life that have cancelled, I know they felt bad, and I wanted to work to say, ‘I am disappointed and I support your decision.’ I can be disappointed even while I recognize you’re doing the right thing for your family.”
Both experts say it’s helpful to keep in mind that everyone is having a very similar experience right now, and everyone is in it together.