7 Ways To Focus On The Joy Of The Holidays In A Stressful Pandemic Year

Photo: dgl images/shutterstock
man and woman christmas tree shopping

We all want happiness and joy in our lives, particularly on special occasions that we wait for and anticipate, whether they happen once, like a wedding, or repeat themselves yearly as Christmas and Hanukkah do.

Big events often have memories, both happy and sad. And winter holidays, for some, can be hard to handle emotionally.

But despite what's happened in the past, you can still try to bring on some holiday joy.

RELATED: How To Make It Through The Holidays Without Suffering From 'FOMO', Burnout, Or Dysfunctional Family Drama

Why holiday joy might feel hard to come by this year.

There are many reasons why these holidays can be so hard for people, but there are suggestions that can help you relax, enjoy, and have more happiness and joyful moments this year — even with a pandemic surrounding you.

First, major holidays usually have extra planning, cooking, travel, and perhaps other chores on your list that can easily lead to frustration, anxiety, and exhaustion.

On top of that, there are all the characters in your personal drama.

For example, when Aunt Edith walks in on Christmas, the tension begins. She drinks a little too much eggnog, and then blasts either the kids for being noisy or reminds Sally that she's still carrying that weight from the last baby.

Then there are the memories. There's the chair that Dad always sat in, or the jokes that always lightened the meal, told by Uncle Harry, who passed last year. And maybe this year, there is even a more poignant, recent loss, due to the pandemic.

I hope that's not the case at your home, but it will be for some.

Be kind to your brain this season.

Your brain is a fabulous machine, still beyond the full comprehension of even the greatest scientists and doctors.

What science does know for sure is that your brain can go into overload due to emotional upsets, lack of sleep, too many expectations or chores on your mind, worries, and even poor eating habits.

When your brain is in overload, you don't think as clearly; you have more moods that weaken your ability to make good decisions. You feel all sorts of unpleasant emotions, such as frustration, anger, disappointment, rage, despair, and more.

The result is that you often come into the holidays wrecked emotionally, with your body crying out for better sleep, the right foods, and time to relax.

How can you help your brain, your body, and yourself to prepare for and enjoy more fully the holidays?

Here are 7 ways you can focus on holiday joy, despite the stress of the pandemic this year.

1. Don't take on too much.

It may hurt your ego a bit to give up certain traditions and the memories that accompany them, but your mind and body will thank you by letting you think clearly and not be overly tired and wrecked.

For example, should you bother to knit a scarf for each child? It's lovely if you did this in advance while sitting on the beach in the summer. 

But if you didn’t, and now it's two weeks to seeing the kids or mailing the scarves for that Zoom Christmas day together, it may be best to let go of the idea and give gift cards, instead.

RELATED: How You Can Help Others Overcome Holiday Loneliness (And Spread Joy This Season)

2. Take care of your own needs first.

Remember what they tell you on an airplane: Put your own oxygen mask on first. That means getting enough sleep, eating properly, and following through on any medical needs.

Take care of yourself in whatever ways are necessary before you see to other people's needs.

3. Remember childhood holiday memories.

This is a way to assure yourself that you have the energy and clear thinking necessary to have real fun and joy.

Think about a favorite movie you may love. Maybe it's A Christmas Story.

That's one of my favorites. I watch the movie and remember so many things I experienced as a child: The snowsuits made from wool that were agony to get on and off, sitting on Santa’s lap, wanting a certain toy...

The miracle of watching that movie for me is that I don't have to feel any of the pain or disappointments that I really faced as a kid. The movie helps me enjoy childhood without any pressure. That enjoyment is what lifts my spirits.

4. Make the holiday fun for you.

The bottom line to joy during the holiday season — even during this pandemic — is giving yourself as many ways as you can to lighten your load.

The emotional and chore load you burden your brain and body with interfere with your best mood and energies. So, take some time to just relax and let yourself feel good about it.

5. Spend quality time with family and friends, even virtually.

Here are some ideas: Watch your favorite movies, listen to music, have chats with friends, read an upbeat novel together, watch a streaming series you like...

You can also share recipes for comfort foods (or mail them on festive holiday cards to each other!), enjoy a massage with your spouse, and spend time with your pets, too. If you don't have pets, then maybe watch cat videos or a dog on YouTube playing the piano.

6. Treat yourself.

Treat yourself as the most special guest you could be entertaining for the holidays, and the results will be joyful.

After all, the holidays are a time for coming together and loving one another — includes yourself.

7. Keep the traditions going.

You don't have to stop with the holidays. Why not treat yourself more often as the precious person you really are?

Holiday joy might be difficult to find this year for many reasons, be it political upheaval, the pandemic, or even the loss of friends and family members. It's essential to take the time to celebrate the holidays and not just let them go by.

RELATED: 76 Merry Christmas Quotes To Get You Into The Holiday Spirit

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein is a psychologist and originator of The Enchanted Self, a positive psychology method for increasing happiness.