Finding ways to celebrate the Holidays during COVID can be tricky.

Coping with the stress of an unusual holiday season

To meet or not to meet?

That is the question many people are asking themselves with the 2020 holiday season looming large.

With Thanksgiving behind us, some people may let down their guard concerning large, in-person gatherings, thanks to the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. The virus is still as big of a threat as ever, so we must remain vigilant to keep one another safe.

“This is a holiday season like no other, and that is something that has added to our repertoire of challenges over this past year,” says Megan Pailler, PhD, Medical Psychologist at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The biggest change this year is the lack of the gatherings, the lack of the rituals that are so important for so many people. No parties or big holiday meals. All of those things represent significant losses.”

Dr. Pailler says that while people may miss their usual holiday traditions, they can create new ones this year.

“We need to acknowledge some of the sadness, or the frustration associated with that loss, but also to figure out creative, flexible, sometimes silly ways of embracing the fact that this is different. It's not going to be what we're all used to, but we can make efforts to have fun with it, and we can continue to focus on the core aspects that make holidays meaningful.”

While some people will learn to embrace the change, others may want to push for loved ones to still gather, despite knowing the risks.

“I hear stories of loved ones putting pressure on people to gather and people feeling that they don't want to treat somebody that they love as ill or sick, and they don't want to be disrespectful or rude," Dr. Pailler says. "It puts people in these unusual, challenging situations that we've never really been in before.”

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The best advice is to be direct with loved ones to let them know your comfort level.

“People are concerned about coming across as rude, disrespectful or rejecting,” Dr. Pailler adds. “My message is that it's okay to set a limit and to say, ‘I can't do it this year.’ It doesn't mean you'll never be able to do it. It just means that this year, safety has to come first because there's a greater picture here.”

The goal is that these will be the only holidays apart.

“If we can keep that in mind, I think it boosts up our resiliency. It allows this one to be one-of-a-kind, and we can embrace the weirdness of it with the understanding that next year will be different.”