In this year of physical distancing—resulting in a whole lot of social dilemma—we are hungry for human connection. Not just connections, but opportunities to spend time with loved ones and celebrate those connections. The holidays, which historically have been those times of celebrations, will be challenged this year by the need to continue to physically distance.
While trying to follow CDC guidelines and keep others safe, there is the risk of family and loved ones not having the same vision in their heads for the holidays. They may want to get together, spend the holidays with everyone inside, offering excuses and validations like: “This is tradition!” “It’ll only be one day!” and “Don’t you want to spend some time with us?”
The truth is that we all want to spend time with those we value, but the guilt some may feel by needing to separate will be widespread this year. This type of guilt is known as “toxic guilt” where we have a sense of not feeling like a good person, or that we’ve let other people down. This kind of guilt, if not examined and mitigated, can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety including changes in sleep and appetite, trouble with focus, having a lack of energy and feeling disconnected from others.
A few techniques will be useful in these situations:
- Call it what it is. This is guilt due to a situation that you have no control over. However, in trying to do the right thing, it may not match up to the easy way out.
- Communicate. Share and tell your friends and family how you are feeling. Tell them how the situation is making you feel negative. Use “I statements” and ask how they are feeling too.
- Set boundaries. Tell your family how you are feeling, how you may feel like you have to take some time for yourself to recuperate and rejuvenate so that you can come back and support them more in the future. Or that their long-term health is more important to you than short-term joy.
- Come up with alternative ways of celebrating:
- Bake something or pick up a favorite treat to drop off at the door of your friend or loved ones so that everyone can share a little in the joy of the season.
- Try holding the holiday via Zoom. Yes, it will feel different. No, it won’t be the same. But having a computer screen open while carrying on your traditions (whether it’s cooking, presents, or what have you) is better than nothing.
- Watch the football games, movies, parades, or TV shows you always enjoy over the holidays at the same time and provide your own commentary to each other over the phone or FaceTime.
- Make a new tradition. Write a letter to each person you care so they have something to keep forever. Play a literal game of telephone. Have a gingerbread house competition and see who has the best decorations via video.
This year is a challenge, but it too will pass. When we come back together in a safe way, we will enjoy and value each other’s company that much more. But this is also a time where creativity and rethinking about how to celebrate each other may start traditions that you can carry forward for years to come.
By Dr. Monika Roots, Chief Medical Officer at Sanvello
Dr. Roots practiced as a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist. She was also a Clinical Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was most recently the Vice President of Health Services and Behavioral Health for Teladoc Health. In 2016, Teladoc Health acquired her business, CogCubed, a behavioral health analytics company. Dr. Roots earned her MD from University of Sint Eustatius School of Medicine and completed psychiatry residency and fellowship in child/adolescent psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.