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News | Dec. 10, 2020

Having a good holiday season – in spite of the pandemic!

By Drew Henderson DLA Land and Maritime Employee Assistance Program Manager

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into nearly a full year of impacting our daily lives, it can feel like it’s hard to find any fun in your day-to-day routine. (Life at home can feel a lot like Groundhog Day—and not in a good way.)  The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests – stress and depression. And it's no wonder. The holidays often present a dizzying array of demands – cooking meals, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. And if COVID-19 is spreading in your community, you may be feeling additional stress, or you may be worrying about you and your loved ones’ health. You may also feel stressed, sad or anxious because your holiday plans may look different during this health emergency. But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would!


When stress is at its peak, it's hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

  • Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can't be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season.
  • Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Many may have websites, online support groups, social media sites or virtual events. They can offer support and companionship. If you're feeling stress during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family member about your concerns. Try reaching out with a text, a call or a video chat. Volunteering your time or doing something to help others is also a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. For example, consider dropping off a meal and dessert at a friend's home during the holidays.
  • Be realistic. The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children or other relatives can't come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or meet virtually on a video call. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.
  • Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  • Stick to a budget. Before you do your gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Try these alternatives: Donate to a charity in someone's name, give homemade gifts or start a family gift exchange.
  • Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That'll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup.
  • Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  • Don't abandon healthy habits. Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Try these suggestions:
    • Have a healthy snack before holiday meals so that you don't go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    • Eat healthy meals.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Include regular physical activity in your daily routine.
    • Try deep-breathing exercises, meditation or yoga.
    • Avoid excessive tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
    • Be aware of how the information culture can produce undue stress, and adjust the time you spend reading news and social media as you see fit.


  • Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Some options may include taking a walk at night and stargazing, listening to soothing music or reading a book
  • Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.



Another thing to be aware of and okay with is setting appropriate boundaries in the holiday season. The ways in which holiday and family traditions must change this year is a loss that each of us is coping with differently. The pandemic has made the role of boundaries in our daily lives and relationships more tangible than ever – properly wearing a mask, maintaining a six-foot distance from others, canceling in-person activities, and avoiding groups and public places. Each of us is making decisions on a daily basis to protect ourselves and our families, but none of us has total control of our own safety since we must rely on those around us to help keep us safe. From the stranger in the grocery store to those we share our homes with, it is more clear than ever that our choices directly impact others, and that honoring one another’s boundaries is the only way for all of us to be safe.

While COVID-19 heightens the stakes around the importance of setting boundaries, the reality is that communicating about our boundaries has always been pivotal to our ability to feel and be safe. In fact, our safety and well-being have always been interconnected – individuals are connected by our relationships, the technology we use, the community we live in, and the broader society surrounding us. Personal boundaries form a protective layer around each of us as we navigate these layers of connectedness. Yet most of the time, boundaries are not as concrete and outwardly visible as a mask or face covering – they are often invisible limits protecting our physical, mental, emotional and psychological well-being. 

The power each of us has to make choices for the safety of our bodies and ourselves is the foundation of consent. Each of us has the right to practice autonomy in choosing what safety looks like from day-to-day and moment-to-moment. We are also all responsible for the impact of our actions and choices on others, which is why consent cannot exist without each of us choosing to be aware of and honor the boundaries of others. 

Dealing with disappointment and expectations 
Family traditions, cultural values and media narratives shape expectations and what is perceived as the “norm.” For many of us, going “home” for the holidays or seeing friends and family is what is expected of us but that doesn’t mean it is the right choice for you. Maybe this year you aren’t coming to visit, or you aren’t comfortable hosting those who have been involved in past holiday gatherings. Or it may be the case you did make plans but are now reconsidering those choices or changing your mind. Here’s where the principles of consent play an important role: Regardless of what others expect, you have the right to decide what is best for you and act on those values. 

Asking and listening is love
You have the right to communicate and negotiate limits. Respecting the right of all people to make choices is at the core of consent, and this right empowers each of us to feel confident setting boundaries. Even though it’s absolutely necessary to listen to and respect the limits of others, many of us have unfortunately had the experience of our boundaries being minimized, ignored or dismissed by people we love and trust. This is not okay. Disrespecting boundaries is a violation, and just like when it comes to consent, we need to normalize accepting and respecting “no.” 

Healthy relationships can handle “no” 
You don’t owe it to anyone to compromise your limits. In healthy relations between partners, friends and family members, disappointment can be handled because there is mutual respect for one another’s different needs. It’s okay for a loved one to feel hurt or need space to process their feelings, but you should never feel pressured to change your mind. Even though our culture normalizes guilt trips and peer pressure, it’s important to recognize these are forms of manipulation and not a sign of caring. When someone cares, they want your honest answer, even when it’s not easy to hear.  

Setting an example isn’t easy but it’s worth it
The reality is that people you are close to may have had some very unhealthy examples and role models when it comes to boundaries and respect. Setting boundaries can be difficult because our loved ones may have different ideas of what is acceptable based on their experiences and values. A lot of times, we compromise on our boundaries because we don’t want to hurt the feelings of others or cause offense. The problem with this approach is that only one person’s needs are met at the expense of someone else’s. One of the most powerful principles of consent is that when all parties are committed to respecting one another, it does not need to be a win or lose scenario. The power of consent is that our freedom of choice and honesty is more valuable than any specific outcome. 

Giving yourself what we all deserve
When consent and respect are at the heart of our relationships, you can let grandma know you love her very much but don’t have any hugs left today. You can let your friend know that you had a great time seeing them but that you prefer not to have the pictures you took together posted on social media. Again, this may not be what the other person wants to hear, but it's a disappointment they can handle. What you are modeling for them is a very valuable skill, and it’s also a way of showing them the level of respect they deserve. They may even find your honesty to be trust-building and validating of their own need to set loving limits.

Have FUN – In spite of everything!

Enjoy the outdoors socially distanced

  • Have an epic snowball fight
  • Go sledding
  • Make a snowman or a snow fort with people in your household
  • Go snowshoeing
  • Make snow angels
  • Go stargazing
  • Take a wintry hike
  • Try ice skating

Try some wintry crafts

  • Build a gingerbread house
  • Cut paper snowflakes
  • Make a birdfeeder out of pinecones, peanut butter, and birdseed
  • Create handmade cards or ornaments
  • Knit a scarf

Enjoy some much-needed self-care

  • Cozy up by a roaring fire
  • Watch the snow fall
  • Burn your favorite scented candle
  • Break out a jigsaw puzzle
  • Cuddle up with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a good book
  • Spend the day in your pajamas
  • Work on a challenging crossword or word game
  • Splurge on a pair of fuzzy slippers

Reconnect with loved ones

  • Host a virtual holiday bake with friends
  • Write letters
  • Have an online game party

Try something new

  • Take an online cooking class
  • Pick up a new hobby
  • Start some seedlings
  • Host a virtual book club
  • Stick with a New Year’s resolution

So, to sum up, be safe, be smart, take care of yourself. Have some fun and enjoy the holidays in spite of everything!