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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Celebrating the holiday season in a pandemic

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

Christmas and COVID. Pasko during a pandemic. Never before in modern times has there ever been the consideration of these two things together. Yet, as we head into the month of December, we are hearing messages from the Canadian government and health officials of a dark winter ahead, limiting contacts to members of your household only and hence, celebrating the holiday season apart from many family and friends.

During these uncertain and sometimes dark times, one can ask, “where do we find glimmers of hope? Can we still find joy?”

If there is ever a time when I am grateful for the work that I do, it is now. As a psychotherapist who works with people diagnosed with serious illnesses and their families, I have the privilege of hearing many stories. When people tell me of their struggles, losses and fears, I also hear about stories of love, resilience, and hope. They have taught me lessons about humanity and share with me their pearls of wisdom, some of which I want to share with you.

So how does one get through difficult times when there is so much uncertainty?

  • “One Step at a Time, One Day at a Time” – It sounds so simple, but people tend to get overwhelmed when they try to anticipate all of the possible problems and outcomes. We can lose our motivation to get up every day if we try to think days, weeks, or months ahead. So take a breath and think about what you have to get accomplished for today.
  • “Live in the Moment” – It is said that depression happens when one regrets the past and that anxiety happens when one worries about the future. To find a sense of calm, one must live in the present moment as much as possible. Take the time to focus on deep breathing and light stretching. When you do tasks such as washing dishes, do you notice the temperature and sound of the water flowing? When you walk up stairs or through snow, do you feel the weight of each step or listen to the crunch of the snow? The busyness of life can take away these simple opportunities to take a break.
  • “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon” – It is becoming more clear that the pandemic will last for months more, at the very least. So preparing ourselves for the long road ahead requires that we train for it. Be diligent about getting enough sleep, rise at the same time each day, exercise daily for at least 30 minutes, have a healthy diet, get fresh air, call or video chat with friends and family, pray or meditate regularly, and engage in a hobby or creative activity to relieve stress.
  • “Turn down the noise” - One factor that contributes to the amount of COVID fatigue that we feel is hearing about it everywhere. We talk with our family, friends, and colleagues about it. News and social media are constantly giving reports and providing commentary. Also, people are able to comment on posts, which can often turn into a lot of negativity and even arguing online. Also, be aware of how you feel after watching a movie or series. Even if it is unrelated to the pandemic, if it leaves you feeling anxious, fearful or sad, it may not be the time to watch it. For example, someone told me that it was difficult to watch Titanic on TV, a movie that she has watched before. There is a lot of stress going on in her life right now, so she decided that watching comedies and nature documentaries is currently good for her mental health.
  • “Feel the Feelings then Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude” – One way to deal with uncertainty is to make small amounts of time to process or talk about feelings, and then move on. So talking or journaling about worries for a short time can actually make it easier to turn towards positivity and hope. An additional step that often improves mood is to list all of the things that you are thankful for, big or small.
  • “This too shall pass” - As Dr. Teresa Tam said in an interview on The National on November 24th, “We will always see the end of a pandemic. No pandemic doesn’t have an ending.” Reflecting on this can provide hope and steel ourselves to keep ourselves and others safe.
  • “Find meaning and purpose by serving others” – Where there is suffering, you will always find helpers, so take a look and you will find them. One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic does not have to take away from us this holiday season is moving towards Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Humankind. With privilege and rights come responsibility. And for this holiday season, that includes wearing masks and staying apart from our loved ones. We do this now so that we can have happy holiday seasons ahead of us for years to come.

From my family to yours, I wish for you a safe, happy, and healthy Holiday Season!

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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