As we officially enter into the holiday season, less cheer seems to fill the air. The normal holiday stress is heightened by anxiety about our health and the health of our loved ones. Can we drive to see our aging parents? Can our adult children fly home for the holidays? Then, there are the financial hardships so many families are struggling with. How many presents can we afford under the tree this year? Can we even afford the tree?
I feel the same crushing pressures as everyone, and I'm preparing for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Eve to all be celebrated differently this year. For over 35 years, I have spent New Year's Eve with three best friends, which expanded to our partners and our children over time. For decades, our merry band of twelve have rung in the New Year together. But not this year. I cannot tell you how sad this makes me.
However, 2020 is what it is, and I'm trying to make the best of it while keeping my family healthy and happy. So, for this holiday season, I have created a new home base for myself with daily rules and rituals. Every day, I try to do the same five things. Each of these activities makes me calmer, happier, and/or more at peace. For ease of remembering, think of the mnemonic M.E.C.C.A. (Mecca being both a holy city and a word that means “center.”)
Keep reading to learn more about these activities and how they can help ease holiday stress that has been heightened this year by the added complications of COVID.
What is M.E.C.C.A.?
Start your day with a brief meditation. I listen to Headspace, an app which offers a 10-minute daily guided meditation. To be clear, every morning I wake up and think, “Oh let’s just skip meditating.” I really never want to. But, when I engage in meditation, I feel better—clear headed, relaxed, and refreshed. It's the best way to start the morning, and studies show that even small amounts can be helpful at decreasing anxiety and improving mood.
Every day, I exercise. Given COVID, I stay away from the gym (though there are safe ways to return to your fitness center, should you choose to), but I can still walk the dog, or hop on our elliptical trainer, or lift hand weights. And as with meditation, every time I finish exercising, I think, “Oh I feel so much better.”
Do you write? Paint? Quilt? Bake? Perhaps you used to practice a creative art years ago, when you were in school. Creativity is one of the best coping tools we have. By creating, we can take our feelings and transform them into something else—something beautiful or moving or cathartic. And as a bonus, you can use your creativity skills to make homemade presents or DIY gift wrap. I have a cousin who sends exquisite handmade cards every year at Christmas. Her skill is beyond me, but I always look forward to seeing her creations.
During the holiday season, many people feel lonely. Many of us have lost someone, and we miss them particularly around these sentimental moments. This year, there will be even more people missing their loved ones, because most of us will need to stay in our own homes. Use this as an excuse to reach out to them. Don’t just text, pick up the phone and talk. I grant you, the conversation won’t be riveting. No one is doing anything, so there isn’t much to talk about other than COVID 19. Just the same, call your friends. Call your aunt. Call your grandparents.
Every day, do something you have put off doing. You know those projects that you never have time for? My house was filled with those, but not anymore! And goodness knows, around the holidays, there is plenty to be done. Perhaps this will be the year that I finally organize the Christmas paper bin. It is full of scraps of wrapping paper, dusty ribbons, and cardboard boxes of dubious utility. Every year I tell myself I will clean it out and organize it. Something tells me that this will finally be the year.
The bottom line
No one knows how long we will drift in this odd COVID limbo, but I hope you can make the best of this strange holiday season, caring for yourself and keeping a healthy grounding routine. You will find me meditating and exercising (reluctantly), creating my blogs, and calling my friends on New Years. You will also find me in the back of my garage, throwing out dusty wrapping paper.
We will find our way back to normal, at some point. For now, enjoy the twinkle lights adorning your neighbor's houses. Take care and chin up. Humanity has gotten through many difficult times, and we will get through this, too. Happy Holidays!
Dr. Lise Deguire is a clinical psychologist in private practice, and author of Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience From a Burn Survivor. For more information, please visit her website.
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