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Meaningful ways to connect with loved ones this holiday season

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the holidays will look different for many of us this year. Angela Buttimer, MS, NCC, RYT, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, shares tips for meaningful ways to connect with loved ones – whether in-person or virtually – and to manage challenging emotions this time of year.

“For many people, they’re not going to be able to honor past traditions or do things the way they’ve normally done them,” says Buttimer. “A lot of people are struggling with grief, loneliness and confusion about how to proceed with the holidays and what’s safe, what’s possible and what they need to let go of.”

Managing disappointment and sadness during the holidays

If you’re feeling disappointed about how the holidays look this year, Buttimer suggests jazzing up your celebrations however you can. Go full-out with whatever you enjoy most, such as decorations, music or food. You could also re-read a favorite book, watch fun movies and turn on music you like. You could even choose to skip the festivities this year – do what works for you.

Buttimer says it’s also important to honor how you feel.

“If you’re sad, depressed or anxious, take time to honor that,” she says. “Those feelings are part of our full humanity.”

Journaling, meditating, staying in contact with loved ones and talking with a counselor or coach can help you process your feelings.

“It’s important to get that mental and emotional support around what you’re feeling,” says Buttimer.

If you have a loved one who’s upset about the change in plans or tradition this year, you’re not alone. Do your best to show them compassion and let them know you’re disappointed too.

“It brings us peace to accept that which is less than ideal – and a lot is less than ideal this year,” she explains.

Connecting with loved ones outside your household

Buttimer says snail mail can be a great way to connect with loved ones who live outside your household.

“Go old-school and send letters or care packages in the mail, especially to people who are by themselves,” she suggests.

Buttimer also recommends making phone calls whenever you can.

“A lot of people are doing Zoom, which is nice because you can see a face,” she says. “But it’s also good to pick up the phone, especially for older family members who may not feel as comfortable on Zoom.”

You could also drop off food for a loved one, facilitate a recipe swap so you can all make the same dish, or watch a favorite movie at the same time while chatting or texting.

Connecting with those in your household

If you’re having a smaller celebration with those who live in your household, try practicing mindfulness in your time together. 

“Be intentional and deliberate about what you’re choosing to do,” she says. “Practice presence with one another. Instead of looking at what you don’t like or don’t get to do, focus on what’s going well and practicing gratitude.”

Finally, Buttimer recommends being kind and compassionate toward yourself and others.

“There is a lot going on in our world right now and not just with COVID,” she says. “Everyone expresses emotions differently. If we can be kinder and more compassionate toward ourselves and others, that’s going to go a long way.”

If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. If you or a loved one has thoughts of suicide or needs urgent mental health support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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