Setting healthy boundaries for the holiday season
The holidays can be a very difficult time for many, and for several reasons.
Katherine Pannel, DO, an osteopathic psychiatrist and medical director in Oxford, Mississippi, shares that in her clinic, most patients struggle during the holidays.
For many, the holidays are not merry and bright. It can be a time of loneliness or grief.
“It may be the first holiday without a loved one, or other unpleasant firsts such as the first holiday after a divorce,” Dr. Pannel says.
Additionally, people with substance abuse such as alcoholism may struggle to stay sober when the season centers around activities that often involve alcohol, while others may use substances to cope with the mounting stress that sometimes accompanies the holiday season. Whatever the case, there is often a pervasive sense of disappointment, she notes.
It also occurs during the dark season when people struggle with seasonal affective disorder.
Rethinking what the holidays look like
“We build up this false image in our heads about what the holidays are supposed to look like,” says Dr. Pannel. “In our minds, they are supposed to look like a Norman Rockwell painting, a Hallmark movie, or the pictures on social media of that perfect family celebrating with happiness, affection, laughter, love, fun, gifts, and togetherness.”
This picture of the holidays is not the case for most.
That image is not realistically achievable for many and can serve as a reminder of what their lives are lacking. It will be particularly difficult for everyone to achieve this ideal image during the holiday season of 2020.
“Even prior to COVID-19, I have always encouraged my patients to maintain healthy boundaries throughout the holiday season to protect their mental health,” Dr. Pannel says. “Now, I encourage them to implement healthy boundaries not only for their mental health but their physical health as well.”
Home for the holidays
We must avoid large gatherings, or the results will be devastating. With many hospitals already at capacity, there will not be room for a post-Christmas surge.
COVID-19 numbers are at an all-time high countrywide. Hospitalizations and death rates are steadily climbing. The past two weeks have been particularly bad, with many news cases attributed to Thanksgiving celebrations.
“Hopefully, we have learned from seeing the consequences of those celebrations and are prepared to treat Christmas differently,” says Dr. Pannel. “However, different does not have to equate with a lack of fun and happiness. There are other ways to have a wonderful holiday season.”
Think quality over quantity, she says.
Tips for an enjoyable and safe holiday season
- First, limit gatherings to your core group/family. This may be the one year you get to avoid those family members that make your holidays so stressful. “Doesn’t everybody have a Cousin Eddy that they would like to avoid?” asks Dr. Pannel.
- Going to church services as a family may be a tradition, but this is not the time to congregate in church. Watch church services with your family virtually, really focusing on the message and not the environment in which you are receiving that message. You will not even have to rush to get dressed in your very best Church attire. You can watch the service comfortably in your pajamas!
- Job loss and pay cuts will reduce if not eliminate the gift-giving of the season. If money is tight, consider homemade gifts. “As a mom of three little kids, my most treasured gifts have always been the ones that they have made,” says Dr. Pannel.
While we may not be able to physically be with extended family, COVID should not keep you from seeing them. You can still visit and celebrate with family virtually.
“Focus on the meaningful conversations with family and friends that are sometimes lost during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season,” says Dr. Pannel. “Because travel is limited and not encouraged during this time, we can spend more time at home.”
Open gifts and have your holiday meal together, but via ZOOM. Although holiday parties cannot occur in person this year, they can still involve friends and fun if done virtually.
We can slow down and really focus on family and making lifelong memories.
“I strongly encourage everyone to celebrate the end of 2020 with more excitement than you have ever had celebrating in New Year’s Eve past—just do so virtually,” Dr. Pannel reiterates. “This has been an exceedingly difficult year, but as a dear friend recently said to me, ‘hope is on the horizon.’”
The vaccine is here. If we just stay strong for a little longer, we will begin to see the light, says Dr. Pannel.