In the Before Times, I identified generally as a pretty happy camper. Some would’ve called me relentlessly hopeful. But 2020 has done a number on all of us, and I’m no exception when it comes to being stressed, exhausted and anxious. Now we’re entering a holiday season unlike any other, with a pandemic that is surging. Again. Just in time for Thanksgiving.
On top of everything else we’ve given up this year, we’re being told not to travel to see family, not to have festive Friendsgiving celebrations, not to hug or share food--or even indoor spaces--with those we love. We’re being asked to be patient while livelihoods and more importantly, lives, are being lost and where nothing is certain. Sometimes we can’t even be with our dear ones as they navigate a frightening illness, or worse, alone.
So how can we lift up our spirits and those of others? How can we find hope and even happiness in the midst of these great challenges, while almost all of us have suffered some kind of unexpected loss? For me, the answer lies in a combination of mindfulness and gratitude. I find that even a small shift in my perspective or my behavior can change a stressful moment or day for the better. So I offer these ideas humbly, that they may help you summon a bit of holiday light even in the unique darkness of these times.
1. Acknowledge loss.
This year, we have all lost something, and we can all agree that 2020 feels like a pile-on, with compounded grief over lost loved ones, jobs, and even just our normal way of life. Rather than minimizing or denying them, take time to give space to those feelings of loss and grief. Honor what you’ve lost, large or small. This can take many forms--writing, talking to a friend or a therapist, making art, or joining a support group. But even in acknowledging your losses, try to keep room--and gratitude--in your heart for what remains.
2. When you may be feeling isolated or emotionally drained, find fulfillment in purposeful self-care.
Check out poet Maggie Smith’s slim but bountiful new book, Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change. It’s filled with compelling short mantras and inspiring stories from her own life. One of my favorite passages is centered around actively seeking joy:
“Do something today that will bring you joy even if you know you will not do it well. Let go of the idea that you have to be the best at something to do it. Train yourself to crave experience, not perfection.”
3. Try a practice I call WUAT--”Wake Up and Thank.”
I was on a recent work call with a young man I didn’t know. We were introducing ourselves before diving into business and in addition to talking about his company and his background, he said that he makes a point to remind himself every morning of at least three things he is thankful for, despite these difficult times. In proactively being grateful for what we do have, we may be better able to feel empathy and compassion for those who are in greater difficulty, and the practice itself offers us the reassurance and self-comfort that we all can use right now.
This year, so many of us are worried about finances, and we fret that we shouldn’t “waste” money on ourselves. But even a small treat--a piece of chocolate, an e-book, a fancy coffee or a new body lotion or pair of slippers--these creature comforts can offer much-needed moments of happiness that can make a real difference as we navigate uncertain times.
5.Thank someone you don’t know.
Reaching out to others in appreciation can spark instant joy in ourselves. This is what I refer to as a Random Act of Gratitude, but its effects go beyond just making the other person feel good. Especially when much of the festivity and connection of the holiday season is being sidelined, small points of contact with other humans are more essential than ever. Of course in these times, you’ll want to be respectful of social distancing and the like. But the idea is to find someone who is doing an under-appreciated job or task, and just say, “Hey, I see you, and I’m really grateful for what you’re doing.” Try it and see what happens!
6.Practice sensory mindfulness.
In a busy world we often eat without actually tasting, walk past beauty without fully seeing it. We also know that one of the terrible side effects of COVID-19 is not being able to taste or smell. So, when going about your days this season, try now and then to focus on your senses and what they are telling you. Eat a little more slowly, and enjoy. Appreciate how good that hot shower feels. Smell the pine needles or wood smoke in the air. These sensory acknowledgements are almost meditative moments that bring us the true gifts of mindfulness or “living in the now.”
7.Call or write someone you know to thank them for something they’ve done for you.
Whether it’s a family member, a teacher, or a long-lost friend who let you couch surf in college--get in contact whatever way you like, and share your gratitude. Connection is healing and uplifting, and we all need both right about now.
8.Keep a Happiness or Joy Journal.
This can be a homemade notebook or you can buy a pretty one. This journal can take any form you like--lists of things that make you laugh, people you love and why, or sweet memories--even dreams for the future. Or all of the above! When you find yourself feeling low, thumbing through these positive notes can help to reset your stress levels, restore hopefulness, and lift your mood.
9.Delight a neighbor.
Drop off a bottle of holiday bubbly, a homemade craft, or a box of chocolates with a personal note. Even though we might not be able to celebrate in person together this year, we can absolutely create moments of kindness and generosity for each other as a bridge to better times.
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10.Bathe yourself in nature.
It sounds counter-intuitive with the weather getting colder in many parts and advice shouting at us to just stay home. But wherever you live, try to take a daily walk or a hike. Pay close attention to trees you may never have looked at. Listen to your feet crunching on dried leaves. Spend some time just looking up at the sky. Run up a hill or sit on a rock and feel yourself breathing deeply. Notice the way being outdoors makes you feel, and how your mood may be different when you come back inside.
11.Take care of your body.
First and foremost, be grateful for everything your body makes possible. When we are stressed, we tend to let good eating and other habits fall away, but during times of uncertainty, keeping our bodies well cared for is essential. You may need to sleep a little more. Drink a little more water. Move throughout the day, even if you’re working from home. Add moments into your routine--moisturizing your skin, taking a warm bath, flossing your teeth, putting on perfume, or just stretching--that offer you a chance to care for and comfort yourself.
12.Do as the Swedes do.
Make your home cozy for the long winter nights. Put summer clothes away and refresh your space. Paint an accent wall in a warm color. Buy yourself a new plush throw blanket or tea mug, a rich hot cocoa mix or a scented candle. Even if you’re alone, hang up some twinkly lights to add sparkle to your space. Then cuddle up in your sweet nest with a good book or your next Netflix binge!
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13.Spotlight the silver linings.
As we approach the year’s end, is there anything at all about the events of 2020 that has taught you something, brought something to light, given you something you needed? Consider making a list of lessons learned, how you dealt with adversity or pivoted, what surprised you about yourself, and what you’ll take with you that has made you stronger and more resilient. Or even what you’ll change as a result of what you’ve experienced! It may still be too early to have a lot of perspective on this complex situation as a whole (other than that it has sucked in many, many ways), but try to be open to the idea that greater challenge can bring greater growth.
Whatever your approach, this holiday season, seek out self-care, joy, gratitude, and connection wherever it feels right to you. Wishing you health, happiness, and an abundance of good vibes!