Homesick for the holidays? How to stay safe and connected

It’s been a challenging year for many people, and the holiday season can make everything seem even harder. Job losses, social isolation, and economic uncertainty have taken their toll on all of us. Many of us won’t be able to spend time with friends and family this year the way we’re used to, and that can make seasonal loneliness even worse than usual. But with a little proactive effort, you can make the most of the season and help alleviate the worst holiday homesickness symptoms.

Be grateful for what you have

If you’re working from home and have found it chaotic and difficult, keep in mind that many others have lost their jobs altogether. Always look on the bright side and be aware of how you are blessed. It hurts when you cannot see friends and family, but you can be grateful that they are still alive and well.

If you’ve lost someone in the past year, spend time remembering all the good things you experienced because of having known them. Gratitude is a vital aspect of mental health, and can help us form a positive outlook we can use to deal with life on better terms.

Tragedy can strike anyone, but we can choose to make the best of it and keep moving forward. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others for support. Explain what you’re going through and the feelings that come over you. Realize that you are not alone in this.

Plan ahead for sending gifts

With the supply chain and shipping delays that keep occurring this year, it’s wise to plan ahead and get your gift orders in early. Check and double-check shipping estimates, which you also should not take as iron-clad guarantees. Be prepared for the possibility that items still won’t arrive on time, and warn your recipients so that they know what to expect. A late-arriving gift isn’t the end of the world, so don’t panic even if you can’t get it there on time.

Cherish the little things

With nightfall coming so early in December, it’s easy to enjoy neighborhood light displays at a reasonable hour. It’s the perfect, socially-distant way to enjoy the holiday cheer that others made an effort to put forth. If you live in a well-traveled area, decorate what you can so that others can gain happiness from your efforts. It doesn’t have to be spectacular to bring joy to other people.

Small steps go a long way. Gifts don’t have to be expensive or spectacular to be meaningful, and offering to help someone in need rewards you just as much as the recipient.

Send physical greeting cards

Now is a great time to resurrect the old tradition of sending holiday greeting cards. You and your loved ones will feel closer together if you can hold something physical in your hands. An e-card can’t replace the look and feel of hand-written words on paper. Now, when everyone feels distant from each other, we need every bit of help we can get. Bonus points if you add a bit of hand-decorated flair to the cards, and a gold star if you make the cards yourself!

Bring home what you can

If you’re used to going out for the holidays, that may not be possible this year. In many places, religious services aren’t available, and your usual restaurant might be booked solid (at reduced capacity) or else shut down. Of course, this is disheartening, but there are steps you can take to make do with what you have.

  • Try re-creating a beloved holiday recipe, either from your family or your favorite restaurant
  • See if your religious community hosts online holiday services
  • Have a private candlelight service, or join with one hosted online
  • Ask your family and friends to play games and open gifts with you over a video call

Don’t be afraid to make changes

It might not be possible to do things the way you’re used to, and that’s okay. This year has brought on a lot of changes. It’s natural to fear change, but we don’t have to let that fear rule our lives. You may want to cling to having your holiday celebrations the way they’ve always been before, but you’ll probably have to make some changes.

Travel restrictions and lockdown orders might mean that your family members can’t visit. The store might be sold out of your favorite holiday treat. Amazon might not be able to get your order delivered on time.

Instead of dwelling on what you can’t have, focus on what you still have. Use video calls to check in with friends and family, schedule gift unwrapping sessions on Zoom, and challenge each other to a video-chat cook-off of old family recipes. Maybe you can’t put popcorn balls on the tree this year, and perhaps your gift budget has taken a hard hit. Remember that making substitutions isn’t the end of the world, and that creating new traditions can also be fulfilling.

Make peace with your situation

Just because our bodies produce stress hormones, it doesn’t mean we need to feed into them. Constant stress and worry can take a devastating toll on both your mental and physical health and can lead to what’s known as the “holiday blues.” Acceptance can help us cope with what we cannot control.

Meditation, stretching, yoga, and prayer are all traditional ways that people have used for centuries to ease stress and feel more in tune with the world around them. Try not to over-indulge in social media sources that encourage the cycle of negativity and despair.

Be inventive

Just because you may have to set aside some old traditions this year, there’s no reason you can’t create new ones. What fresh food or activity could you add to the family holiday traditions? Ideas include:

  • Playing a personalized trivia game centered around facts about your friends and family
  • Two Truths, One Lie: Holiday Edition (e.g., what present would the person not want)
  • Decorating your tree in a brand-new aesthetic
  • Creating your own holiday decorations
  • Making popcorn wreaths out of some other substance
  • Learning how to cut more intricate paper snowflakes

Look forward to better days ahead

Always remember that this troublesome time in our lives won’t last forever. Keep an upbeat attitude by looking forward to better times, which are sure to come. Everything, both good and bad, will eventually come to an end.

We can take solace in this certainty more now than ever, when most of us would like to push the reset button and re-do the year much differently. No matter how deep the darkness, dawn always breaks, bringing warmth and light and hope. If you keep moving forward, you can get through this.