Menu additions, holidays 2020: a serving of disappointment, a side of relief, a cup of conflict & a heap of anxiety?? 

November 23, 2020

This holiday season brings a variety of new feelings and experiences for most of us. With the surging virus rates, traditional holiday plans require shifts and changes. For many people, this may bring the next in a series of disappointments in 2020, along with canceled weddings, graduations, trips, classes, reunions, etc. Others may experience relief at having an excuse to get out of gatherings they dread. Family conflicts are at an all time high, while anxiety about a variety of things impacts almost everyone.

Disappointment falls in the category of feelings that no one likes. We feel it when  external circumstances change, without our control. Anticipation is wired in our bodies. Images and smells of food leads us to salivate in preparation for tasting and digestion. Thinking about and planning beloved holiday traditions can bring comfort and joy, which is now lost. Many people look forward to holidays as a time to gather with family or friends who are otherwise busy or who live far away. These rituals live deep in our bones. 

Other people, who traditionally experience the holidays as a time of loneliness or missing family and friends, may feel a sense of relief this year. Rather than being alone and feeling sad, at a time when it seems everyone is happy and celebrating with loved ones, they may experience relief that their sadness is more widely shared. Meanwhile some people may cherish the opportunity to choose how to spend the holidays, rather than joining in perfunctory gatherings. 

Conflicts, especially in families where people have differing political perspectives and/or where people have been working or studying together, may be more prevalent during this year’s holiday celebrations. Tensions from the disappointments and lack of opportunity to gather with others, may further the conflicts. Many people have strong opinions and being cooped up with people who don’t share their perspectives can be difficult.

Lastly, who doesn’t feel heightened anxiety this year? With so much uncertainty, loss, fear and change, anxiety is rampant. Some worry about feeding themselves and their family, others worry about paying their rent, while many worry about getting sick or losing loved ones. For some people the worries loom large about when they will be able to return to work or travel or gather with friends and family again. 

While we may wish to live only in the moment, untouched by the pain of disappointment and not impacted by anxiety about the future, we are not wired this way. Our response generally involves a mix of anger at having things taken from us and sadness about the loss of anticipated joy. Unfortunately, denial does not make it go away. For this holiday season, I encourage you to start by acknowledging all or your feelings, including fear, anxiety, sadness, anger and disappointment.

I suggest you be conscious of things you do to avoid feeling, such as drinking too much alcohol, overeating, losing yourself in TV or in playing games on your phone. Instead, consider taking the risk of sharing your feelings with people close to you. Seek alternative ways to be with yourself and each other.  Find connection in simple pleasures such as being outside, moving your body and receiving solace in the constancy of nature. If possible, take quiet time to reflect on what you value and how to do or have more of that in your life. Make plans for things you want to do when you can gather and/or travel again. Notice the people around you and do something kind for someone in need. Or, risk reaching out to ask for something you need or want.

For those with family conflicts, I suggest two options. If you can listen to each other to learn and share perspectives, do that. If you are too polarized, agree to avoid these topics. Everyone has a right to their opinion and everyone also has a right to their boundaries. It’s important to allow each other space and time alone. If you are confined and need time apart, look for even small ways to get this. 

The changes thrust upon us this year can bring gifts along with the many losses. I wish for you gifts of clarity, of shifting priorities, of simple pleasures and having enough of what you truly need. 

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