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We are facing a complex holiday season of epic proportions. Today’s blog is designed to give you the tools and skills you need to navigate it in the most helpful way possible.

This won’t be the first time many of you have experienced adversity this year. Whatever your faith or belief system, there will be/have been times throughout this Covid-19 pandemic where you gathered together for a celebration or to observe a religious festival.

Whether it was communal prayers during Ramadan back in April and May; Diwali celebrations in November; Hanukkah at the moment; or Christmas next week, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has meant these occasions have been more complex to negotiate than any in living memory.

But despite our different faiths and beliefs, there is much we can learn from one another about how to ensure such occasions are still joyous and successful. After all, we’re all facing the same situation, just in different ways.

Even the festive commercials are tuned towards how different this year’s holidays are going to be compared to previous ones. For example, the John Lewis Christmas ad focusses on compassion, while Coca-Cola’s highlights the troubleshooting ninja skills we’ve all had to practice this year. You can view each below:


Problems you’re likely to face this festive season

The immediate and biggest difference this year that springs to mind is the restrictions that are in place which limit the number of people we can celebrate with. This reality will add complexity to our decision making process, how we prioritise and the way we’ll be able to connect with others this year.

Decision fatigue and complexity exhaustion

There’s more decisions to make and with extra complexity. With social distancing guidelines still in place, plus the actual threat posed by Covid-19, deciding whether to pop up the high street and do your festive shopping isn’t as straightforward as it usually is.

Even seemingly simple decisions, like whether to go and visit mum — especially if it involves using public transport — aren’t as simple as they would normally be. All thinking takes energy – the brain takes up 20% off your energy just doing its thing – so this level of thinking and processing will be depleting your stores, which is why having to make lots of decisions can actually leave you feeling knackered and you can feel exhausted from having to work through the additional complexity and troubleshoot.

In addition to having more decision to make and them being more complex, another factor to consider is the amount of additional time that certain activities will take. It’s likely that tasks, like doing your festive shopping (food, gifts, etc.), will take longer than usual. You’ll need to factor this in when arranging trips out and allow for the additional time they may take.

I will be flying to Iceland this Christmas. After various family meetings we’ve concluded that the Cost-Benefit-Analysis shows this as the most constructive choice for us as a family. I’ll need to sign up with a website to let the government know I’m coming, there’s Covid tests at the airport and then a further test a few days later and isolation during that time. I’m already thinking about the number of ‘contact-points’ with other people and how to reduce risk during my travels and that’s not even taking into account checking whether the shops will be open at Heathrow, or whether I’ll need to secure my reading material before I head to the airport.

Having to choose

Talking of Iceland, there’s an Icelandic word, valkvíði, which translates into English as ‘choice anxiety’. It’s when we struggle to make a decision because we are worried we might make the wrong one. It can lead to us playing mental tennis and then going to our default habit of choice (possibly not helpful) or never actually making a decision (which is usually unhelpful).

As if the decisions at the moment aren’t hard enough already, deciding whom to see and whom not to see at Christmas takes that to a whole other level. This year we have to navigate the various rules and regulations that will be in place because of the pandemic. All countries have some restriction on household ‘bubbles’ or group contact so we are not going to be able to see everyone we want.

How is this going to play out for you? Remember that two-thirds of our brain is operating at the level of my dog Denny and our ‘group-scoop’ programming is deeply embedded in our brain structures and pscyche. When faced with having to choose some members of your group over others, who will you prioritise seeing?

It’s inevitable that some of our friends and loved ones will be left disappointed. Consider the effect this will have on your relationships and how you will manage this.

Connecting and belonging

Whatever your faith/beliefs and whatever the occasion, most of the time it’s all about coming together and feeling connected. However, because of the limitations that are in place, we are not able to connect in the ways that we are used to. This will lead to our sense of feeling connected being impacted. As a result, you might feel like you don’t belong and experience loneliness.

Loneliness often leads to other feelings, such as tenderness, vulnerability and increased emotions. You may find you become withdrawn and tearful, which could see you going overboard — in terms of gifts or your Christmas feast — as you try to compensate.

You might also find that your tolerance levels are diminished as part of all this. Just be aware that these are all normal reactions to the situation you are facing and make adjustments accordingly.

The hardest one for me is that I won’t be able to see my grandmother for Christmas. She is in a care home and even after I’ve come out of isolation and fingers crossed with 2 clear Covid tests, I’m not allowed to visit her.

As Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl (who is someone we often reference because of his extraordinary experiences) , said: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

What will your own experience be like this holiday season? Have you made plans already? If so, how did you prioritise whom to see and whom not to see?

The impact of loneliness

While festivities this year are different from previous ones, the sentiment and sense of occasion will still be important for many. Indeed, even Boris Johnson acknowledged this recently, saying: “I can’t say that Christmas will be normal this year – but in a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.”

In fact, the importance of social connections goes beyond simply having fun every now and again. Evidence suggests that a lack of social connections can actually increase your risk of premature mortality.

According to the Campaign to End Loneliness, the problems that loneliness can bring are greater than those associated with many other factors that impact our health such as obesity, physical inactivity and air pollution.

It’s a reality that the Royal College of Nursing also acknowledges, stating that ‘In just a few decades loneliness has escalated from a personal misfortune into a social epidemic.’

And let’s not forget that loneliness can affect anyone, at any age, in any circumstances, which is why the complex holiday season we are about to experience will have a profound impact on many people.

Looking after yourself when faced with difficult situations

So what can you do to ensure your experience this holiday season is as helpful as possible?

Here are some tips to help you:

Visitor’s permit to Self Pity City

Look after your feelings ‘wounds and bruises’. As we’ve already discussed, you’re going to feel very different this Christmas vs. previous ones. Acknowledge this and take time to talk to yourself about how it is making you feel. In addition to grieving for those we’ve lost this year, there will be sadness about who you can’t see. It’s going to be difficult and that’s okay. 

I believe it’s important to sometimes visit Self-pity City. It’s the place where you can just feel sorry for yourself. It’s that putting the kettle on and saying ‘there, there’ moment for ourselves. It’s an important place to visit. The key thing though is not to relocate and take up permanent residency as that’s not helpful. Self-pity City helps to move through the feelings you’re having rather than avoiding them and then building up to the point where they then spill over in a way that isn’t appropriate.

Be creative with your first aid

What makes you feel good during the holidays? It’s all the decorations, music, seasonal TV ads, yummy food, the Hanukkah candles etc., right? These are all things that help create that wonderful sensory festive experience.

So why not use this same principle of catering to your senses to help you feel better? Regardless of your faith or beliefs, there will be sights, sounds and other factors that arouse your senses and make you feel good.

Whether it’s feeling safe enough, leaning into your feeling of trust, seeing the funny side of what’s going on or permission to feel utterly fed up — watching a movie with that kind of ’emotional signature’, listening to that kind of song, a certain type of food — embrace it and support yourself feel what’s helpful to you. These types of supports and/or distraction can be really helpful during difficult times.

Now it’s important to note that distraction is different from avoidance. Distractions are designed to temporarily alleviate how you’re feeling. Avoidance means not confronting the situation at all, which can lead to our unhelpful feelings building up and up until something gives.

And, of course, let’s not forget your First Aid for Feelings. A great place to start when it comes to exploring and understanding your feelings is the First Aid for Feelings course on the Insight Timer app. It is designed to help you recognise feelings — even unhelpful ones — and deal with them in a constructive way.  

You can listen to Day one for free and without even creating an Insight Timer account, allowing you to see if this is something that could be helpful for you. 

Experiment with different ways of connecting and having social contact

Why not consider having a virtual party with drinks and games. This Good Housekeeping article should give you some inspiration for games you can play via Zoom. While it might not quite be the same, you’ll still create a vital sense of connection this holiday season and have some fun.

Perhaps this ingenious way to hug your granny — driven 100% by the pandemic — will give you some inspiration. In August, 90-year-old Freda France was able to have her first hug in six months after her granddaughter made a ‘cuddle curtain’ for her.

Or how about getting creative with your Christmas cards this year and instead of sending traditional cards, why not record a personalised voice message and send it to your loved ones instead. I’m sure they’d love it and they can play it back whenever they want to hear your voice.

Take laughter supplements

I’m a huge advocate of laughter supplements, as you’ll know if you saw our recent Facebook post here outlining the health benefits. Laughter supplements are basically where you deliberately seek out something that will make you laugh as a way of looking after your physical and mental health even when you don’t ‘feel’ like laughing. I recommend taking 2 a day. Seriously. 

That’s because the simple act of laughing can give you a significant health and wellbeing boost. They don’t say that “laughter is the best medicine” for nothing.

Here are just some of the benefits of laughing:

  • Relaxes your entire body
  • Boosts your immune system
  • Triggers the release of feel-good endorphins

You can discover more laughter benefits in this insightful post from HelpGuide, a not-for-profit organisation whose mission it is to improve people’s mental health.

How about this short video of a baby laughing as your first laughter supplement:

Cultivate and foster compassion

Cultivating compassion is a skill that needs to be practiced in order to be available to us. A great place to start is over at The Compassion Project. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative to provide compassion education to elementary school students across the US.

The Compassion Project’s mission is to teach every primary school student across America about compassion (what it is and how to demonstrate it). 

Check out this video on The Compassion Project website featuring LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner. He talks about the importance of teaching compassion from an early age. Why? Because research shows that students exposed to Social Emotional Learning (SEL) like this in school do better than their peers. This includes positive social behaviors and attitudes, skills such as empathy and teamwork, and academic achievement.

What are you going to give yourself this Christmas?

Christmas is a time of giving. But while many of you will be considering what gifts you’ll be buying for your friends and loved ones, have you thought about what gift you’re going to give yourself?

It can be easy to focus on others at this time of year, but sometimes that can lead to you neglecting yourself. So I’m inviting you to give yourself gifts. After all, your primary relationship throughout your life is with yourself. It’s the only one that’s with you every breath of the way.

This is a concept that we discussed in a previous blog on self-care (here). In that post we looked at how by looking after yourself in the first instance, you automatically put yourself in a better position to help others.

With that in mind, consider giving yourself a gift this Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a physical item, but it absolutely can be, of course. If you’re stuck for ideas, our blog post last Christmas may provide you with some inspiration. It talks about three simple and thoughtful self-gifts: sleep, time and kindness.

Another helpful resource for you is our blog on The Helpful AAA Holiday Strategy. It outlines a helpful way of dealing with occasions that involve family and friends — think Christmas / Hanukkah etc, birthdays, weddings and so on. What are the three As that form the strategy? Advice, Allies and Action. Please do read the post for more information on how they can be helpful

By knowing what the issues and triggers are likely to be for you during such occasions, and having support and strategies in place ahead of time, can mean the difference between successfully and joyfully navigating these situations, or risking the challenging aspects undermining the easier, more enjoyable parts.


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Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.
All the best, Thor