Six Ways to Find Joy During the Holidays

Feature story from On Health and Wellness

By Dr. Robert Oliva

Our holiday traditions normally act as anchors that rekindle relationships, provide hope, and produce feelings of generosity while renewing bonds to family and friends.

This year’s holiday season is anything but normal. We have all experienced nearly a year of fear, anxiety, anger, illness, and even the loss of loved ones. Those of us challenged by physical and emotional pre-existing conditions, or substance abuse issues, may find symptoms exacerbated during this time.

Despite all this, with some effort, we can still celebrate and discover ways to find joy, hope and connection.

Here are some suggestions to foster joy in the holidays:

Follow CDC Guidelines

It is imperative that to follow CDC guidelines such as wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and washing our hands. Don’t travel if you don’t have to and keep celebrations small with only the immediate family group. Be prudent. Think through any plans for the holidays.

Now that the covid-19 vaccine is becoming available, follow the advice of your healthcare provider to determine when you will receive your first dose. If you have had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past, are pregnant, etc., discuss this openly with your physician

Adjust Your Expectations

Let’s face it, we are not going to be able to celebrate the holidays the way we want to. For this reason, It’s important that we adjust our expectations to fit the limitations the pandemic has forced upon us. We must accept that life has changed. Look at this holiday as an opportunity to be creative and to look at things from a new perspective. Being different doesn’t mean being awful.

It’s not your fault things are the way they are. Look at what can be realistically accomplished right here, right now. Perhaps you will start some new traditions.

Adapt Family Traditions
If you’re like I am, the loss of certain holiday traditions is very distressing. What to do?

Psychologists suggest sitting down with the family and making a list of all the holiday things you normally do. Pair down the list to those things that are doable this year. Make sure there is something from everyone’s list. Less is more. Keep your eye on what is most important. Set realistic boundaries as to what is possible emotionally and financially.

It is also recommended to Zoom holiday meals, dropping off care packages to loved ones, and prioritizing what’s most important.

Participate in Religious Ceremonies
Many of our holiday religious traditions are based on hope and bringing light into the world. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the liberation of the Jews from the Syrians and the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. Christmas commemorates the birth of the Prince of Peace, born to the poor and destined to bring hope and redemption to those in need. Kwanzaa is the celebration of community, family and culture, helping African Americans reconnect with their African roots and heritage.

Celebrating these traditions can add hope and confidence that we will overcome our current struggles and that God has our back, so to speak. They provide the experience of community, purpose, and shared values that heighten our sense of solidarity.

Be Generous

One of the best ways to foster joy is to give to others, especially to those in need. From simply baking cookies for loved ones or neighbors, to volunteering at food pantries and soup kitchens, the act of being generous can engender feelings of hope and joy. Helping others survive the suffering and pain of the pandemic has a way of lifting the burdens from our shoulders and gives our lives direction and meaning. Acts of generosity bring us out of ourselves, our worries and pains. Generosity is good for our mental and physical health. Give of your time.

Practice Calmness

The pandemic has deepened the stress many of us feel during the holiday season. Appropriate self-care cannot be overlooked or minimized. Soothing our emotions and dampening our fears fosters calmness and a heightened capacity to enjoy the holidays in the best way possible.

Practicing mindfulness, breathing techniques and other relaxation exercises calms our bodies and minds and empowers us to reach out to others and remain connected. Taking time each day to sit quietly and practice breathing, yoga, and meditation can establish a positive habit we can use throughout our lives. For some, relaxing may entail listening to classical music, reading a good book, or watching an old movie. Whatever it is, make sure it’s your time and yours alone.

Final Thoughts

Joy in our lives comes from combining a desire to be happy, a willingness to reach out to others, and the ability to adapt. It entails a willingness to let go of resentments, angers, and fears. It is a time to set aside our differences. Joy demands looking at each situation and event in our lives as an opportunity to be creative, steadfast, and generous. Joy flourishes when we meet life’s uncertainties with a hope that heals our wounds and overflows to those we hold dear and strangers in need.