Chances are, your Thanksgiving looked different this year because of the ongoing pandemic. Perhaps you stayed home rather than travel, or you traveled by car instead of plane. Perhaps you had fewer guests with more space between them. Perhaps Grandma joined you via Zoom instead of in person.
2020 has been a tough year, and the loss or alteration of family gatherings can make it harder.
“Ordinarily, people get through such trying periods by biding their time, holding on until events such as holidays come around,” says Steven Taylor, MD, a psychiatrist with Kettering Health Network. “Then everyone can get together, relax, and commiserate. We count on holiday traditions to see us through. Now get-togethers are a more dicey proposition. So something that sustains us is cruelly taken away.”
Your feelings are normal
Dr. Taylor says it’s natural for this separation and accompanying “pandemic fatigue” to take a toll on us.
“We’re getting tired of being apart,” he says. “We’re getting tired of things not being the way they used to be only one short year ago. And we’re tired of being afraid.”
As a result, we might feel sad, have a hard time focusing, or feel like things are never going to get better. “These are all understandable things to think and feel,” he says. “Yet what also sustains us—beyond traditions, beyond gatherings, beyond holidays—is hope. And being innovative, being adaptive. After all, the willow tree—which can bend with the wind—does much better in a storm compared to the mighty oak with its harder wood.”
How to enjoy the rest of the holiday season
“First, it’s important to realize that everyone has to decide what’s best for themselves,” Dr. Taylor says. While there might be guilty feelings about canceling or not attending a gathering, if someone decides that’s what’s best for safety’s sake, that’s okay. “And for some,” he adds, “given how much grief sometimes comes with families getting together, maybe not getting together will be for the better this year.”
Starting new traditions can be another way to cope. If Thanksgiving was a letdown, celebrate it this coming summer, Dr. Taylor suggests. “Do Christmas in July. Donating to homeless shelters or food banks during this season can be another tradition that helps everybody feel better.”
Dr. Taylor says that ultimately, what has to sustain us moving forward in these times is the hope that things will eventually get better. “Yes, it’s hard to be optimistic right about now,” he concedes. “Yet optimism may be the holiday gift we need to give ourselves this year in order to see us through.”