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Managing emotions & expectations during these unusual pandemic holidays

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

What a year it has been! No other industry has been hit as hard as motion picture and film, with a full-on shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic, months without any work, and then a sudden fall ramp-up, hitting record highs for concurrent productions in BC.

And now the holiday season is upon us – a season that can be filled with mixed emotions – excitement over holiday festivities, relief at having some time off or, perhaps instead, additional holiday stresses from high expectations, altered plans, and family relationship challenges. This year, as we face the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, these times can be exceptionally challenging as restrictions increase and cases rise across the country.

This year, the pandemic has added extra strain to our already busy and stressful lives:

  • increased health fears for ourselves and our families

  • confusion over continually changing restrictions

  • grief as a result of the loss of someone close to us due to the virus,

  • loss of traditions, social events, or milestones

  • conflict amongst families trying to navigate restrictions and expectations

  • increased financial stress from reduced work, job loss or a reduction in income

  • and feelings of isolation if you are spending the holiday alone or separated from those that you want to be with.

Although we may be experiencing any one or more of these, this time has also provided many with opportunities to see how they have experienced new resiliency, opportunities, and healthy practices that have acted as protective factors in the midst of a difficult year.

Being Alone Is Not Uncommon

Humans are social beings, so being alone through the holiday season can be a painful time for some. People can end up by themselves on holidays for a variety of reasons. Some live far away from family or have jobs that require they work the holiday. Those who are grieving sometimes choose to spend the day alone. Others have challenging family dynamics that can turn a happy holiday into an upsetting or stressful day of problems that they would rather avoid. For some, perhaps, being alone on a significant holiday can be a useful choice in some circumstances.

Acknowledge the Loss you Feel

Grief and loss are a natural response to losing someone, or something, and it is uniquely individual and often isolating. It is not only death and dying which bring upon feelings of loss and grief. It may be distance (physical or emotional), it may be a break-up, separation, or divorce, the loss of routine or employment, the loss of milestones, celebrations, and traditions. Holidays and special occasions often intensify the grief response, especially when the loss has been recent.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

With the holidays around the corner, we want to help you manage different experiences you may face this holiday season. We hope these simple tips provide you with ideas and practices to keep your mental health in check, and perhaps find ways to enjoy the holiday season:

Feel your emotions. The holidays can trigger difficult emotions and make people reflect on how things used to be or how they wish things were this year. Allow yourself to feel sad, disappointed, or anything that might come up. You can write in a journal, talk to a friend, or call your EAP to process your emotions. Whatever you are feeling is okay.

Acknowledge Grief. If you’ve lost a loved one or are separated from loved ones, acknowledge that things won’t be the same. Consider honoring the individual(s) that is not present or starting new traditions in their memory. Know that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief and know that it’s okay to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because of the time of year. Grief has no time frame and the third or fourth or fifteenth holiday season may be just as painful as the first.

“Re-frame” Loneliness. Re-framing is a healthy way of choosing to look at a situation another way, typically focusing on the positive or on the potential. Your holiday season may not be what you hoped it would be, but you can try and adjust your expectations or perspective in these uncertain times. Recognizing that you are alone now, but that doesn’t mean you are alone always and treat yourself by taking this time to do something nice for yourself. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just something that helps you care for yourself and boost your mood.

Practice Mindfulness. The reality is, we only have right now. Not dwelling on the past and not worrying about the future can make your holiday celebrations a success. It can also make you a happier person in general. Focus on your needs and what is happening at this very moment and enjoy it. There is a resilience and “healing capacity” in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness helps us to prevent “getting out of focus” by staying present with what is most meaningful for you. Check out some mindfulness mediations on Youtube, or use one of the great apps like Headspace, Insight Timer, or Calm.

Stay Connected. Being distant or estranged from family and friends can result in loneliness. Keep yourself busy with activities or people you enjoy, even if that means socially distanced walks, phone calls, or video chats. Knowing that you have something to look forward to can give you that extra energy to get through some of the more difficult times.

Avoid a Social Media or News Tailspin. Social media and news feeds can contribute to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and depression, especially during the holidays. So, consider limiting your time online. At the very least, remain aware of its potential to show you an unrealistic view of life.

Stick to a Budget. Expenses can easily get out of control during this time of year. To help with your stress levels, set a budget early on and stick to it. Avoid buying gifts with a credit card, where possible. Consider a group gift sharing option or your own gift “checklist” that includes a budget per person to use with family and family to keep your spending in check. Be realistic about what you can handle.

Accomplishing Long-Ignored Tasks: Typically, the holidays may be busy with social or family events. But with current restrictions, and the colder rainy weather, we may find ourselves with more down-time at home. Perhaps this is a good time to clear out the old and get ready to bring in the new. Organize your photographs (phone and camera) – purge what you can and save and categorize what you love. If you feel especially inspired, you can paint that drab kitchen or rearrange your home. Fix things around the house that have been neglected. Check into organizational tools and apps to help you get organized. Accomplishing even small things can feel good and help lift your mood.

Let Go of Resentments. Decide what grievances you’ll let go of for the day. You aren’t the only one feeling stress, hurting, or getting triggered. Sometimes, being around family requires us to forget about past issues and simply enjoy everyone despite them. Remember the holidays are supposed to be about what is meaningful for you. Sometimes having heightened expectations about resolving conflict during the holidays can lead to disappointment. You can save the big issues or discussions for another time.

Have a Lifeline. Make plans ahead of time for when you will connect with a friend or family member during the holidays to support each other. Hearing a friendly voice can help you sort out your feelings when you are overwhelmed or stressed. Processing stress with a friend usually leads to a few therapeutic laughs.

Help others. One of the best ways to take the focus off our own challenges and ourselves is helping other people over the holidays. Finding ways to lend a helping hand or listening ear can help boost your mood, whether we are helping family, friends, work colleagues, or strangers. Look to your community for creative opportunities to give back, or come up with your own way to make a difference to someone. There may be opportunities to help others creatively while still adhering to restrictions to keep you and others safe.

Holiday stress comes in all forms, but preparation and planning can help you appreciate this time of year, avoid isolation, and learn how to take control of your emotions while enjoying what the season offers. It is okay if the holiday season does not turn out how you expect or want it to. Just be sure to be kind to yourself and do whatever you need to do to stay well and connected.

If you are in need of personal/emotional assistance during the holidays, connect with your union’s Member/Employee Family Assistance Program for support. Their phone lines are open over the holidays and they offer several services that can assist, including counselling, financial coaching, nutrition or health coaching, and others. They are available 24/7 and ready to help.

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