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Coexisting with COVID this Holiday Season

  December 7, 2020

By Todd Goold – Support Services Specialist, Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada

With the holidays right around the corner many of us are wondering what is going to happen this year as we ‘coexist with COVID’. If we are following the recommendations of Health Canada (and I hope you are), it will most likely be a quiet holiday season. So, what can we do to help combat the isolation and anxiety we are feeling from the current pandemic?

Below are some suggestions that will help you feel less lonely, isolated, and stressed during the holiday season.

Be Social

Feeling connected to friends or family will make you feel less lonely and stressed this holiday season.

Even though we are to stay home, it doesn’t mean we have to stay disconnected. There are many ways to close the distance and connect virtually this holiday season.

Google Hangouts is one of many free apps that let you connect to a person or group through your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Make an evening of it – host a virtual dinner, virtual book club or virtual happy hour.

If you are the type of family that requires an activity to connect, how about hosting a Netflix party or a games night on Jackbox TV? These services aren’t free, but there are also many museums, religious services, and event venues offering virtual gatherings at no cost.

If all this sounds too complicated, then I suggest just picking up the phone and say “hi.” Simply making the call will help you feel less alone and more connected.

Take this opportunity to share your feelings with others.

Spend Quality Time with Family.

Do the things that you normally do not have time for. Play board games, do puzzles, and bake together. These are the activities that create memories and solidifies the bonds between friends and family members.

If everyone is in a different room of the house watching a different movie on TV, this is not quality time – this is just passing the time. The one thing that all brain tumour survivors and caregivers know is that time we have on this earth is limited.

Spend it wisely.

If I can share a quick story. It was December 29, 1998 and my Mom, and two family members were playing cards at the kitchen table. They asked me to come play with them, but I was playing this computer game that I just got for Christmas and I was really into it, so I politely said, “Thanks but no thanks”.

There are many times since then that I look back on that moment in time and wish I would have taken that opportunity to play cards with them.  She had a brain aneurysm and in the early hours on December 30th, it burst, and she fell to the kitchen floor. Everything happened so quick and as the machine that was giving her life was gradually slowing down, we said our goodbyes and she was gone.

I know there was not a way that anyone could have known what was going to happen, but over the years I found myself feeling guilty that I missed this opportunity to play cards one last time with my Mom.

One thing that I have learned from this experience besides “never say no to a game of cards,” is that the holiday season gives us an opportunity to let our loved ones know how much value they bring to our lives. Set the emotional tone this holiday season and let those people know just how much you love and appreciate them by spending quality time, writing a handwritten note, making a homemade gift or a homemade meal.

The relationships we develop, the quality time we spend with others, and the positive impact we create is the only thing that matters this and every holiday season. Spend quality time with family this year and play a game of cards for me.

Focus on What you Can Control

There are only two things in this life we have control over: our thoughts and our actions. We cannot control our kids’ attitudes, or the sometimes-inappropriate things your parents may say around the dinner table.

The moment you chose to let go of the things you cannot control you will reduce the amount of stress in your life.

Sometimes the stress we carry in our life is other peoples’ problems. If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, write a list of what you are stressed about. From the list, circle the items that are in your control – the ones that you can take action to resolve – and cross the other items that you have no control over off your list. This should help lessen the burden and make life a little more manageable.

Change your Mindset

Avoid thinking too much into the future or worst-case scenarios. This sort of ‘forecasting’ can trigger unhealthy coping mechanisms and cause nothing but stress and panic. If you are finding yourself stressed out, try and take things day-by-day.

Create a list and ask yourself: “What do I need to do to get through today?”

I know that “mindfulness” is a buzzword these days but practicing mindfulness does work if you are feeling anxious and stressed out. Mindfulness means real-time awareness of our thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment with openness and curiosity.

There are plenty of online resources with guided videos on mediation, yoga, and mindfulness, and all just an internet search away. There are also many apps that can be downloaded to your phone or tablet if you need mobile support. One that I have used in the past and that has a great free trial is an app called Headspace.

Practicing gratitude is also known to improve mood and lower anxiety. Take some time each morning to think about “What brings me joy,” or “Things that I am thankful for.” Write a list of five things and keep it next to your bedside table.

You will be amazed to find when you are having an off-day that going back and reading your previous entries will improve your mood.

Most important, be kind to yourself. We are all doing the best we can under the present circumstances and there will be good days and bad. More often than not, we are our own worst critics when we make a mistake.

If you do make a mistake, try and talk to yourself the way you would when your best friend has made a mistake and is looking for your advice and reassurance.

Setting Boundaries

It is important to set boundaries before you plan any Christmas festivities. The last thing you want to find yourself in is a heated exchange with your COVID-denying second cousin about the impacts of the pandemic, or making your 25th batch of shortbread cookies because your family loves them, and you feel guilty for not making them.

Choose to set your boundaries now. Decide what is important to you and protect it with everything you got.

Boundaries are the limits we set with other people, with our schedule, or spending which indicate what we find acceptable or unacceptable.

If you have no choice but to invite your opinionated cousin to the virtual holiday feast, the best way to avoid major meltdowns around the holiday table is to set appropriate boundaries before the event.

You can do this by:

  • Clearly stating that “our wishes is to enjoy this meal and to share this time with you. We ask that during this time together that we refrain from talking about politics, or the current pandemic.” As the time passes, some family members may need a gentle reminder. It’s ok to say, “This time together is meant to be a time of reconnecting and renewal and I am going to ask that we defer this conversation for another day.”
  • If the conversation continues, you can do one or two things:
    • You can empathize (which does not mean you have to agree with them) and say, “I am so sorry that this has impacted you this way…” or, “I understand you feel this way….” and try you best to remain calm.
      The goal here is to come together and say what need to be said so that the other person feels valued, respected, and that you have heard their message. And then end the conversation by stating “I am going to ask that we defer this conversation. We are here to spend time together and enjoy each other’s company.”
    • Or just be mindful that a conflict cannot survive without your participation. Keep your composure and let the person “say their piece.” Once a natural pause in the conversation comes, you can say “I have given you time to speak on (this subject) and even though I respectfully disagree, I value your presence here today. Now who would like more turkey?”

If your finding yourself being pulled in many different directions this holiday season, have a conversation with your partner, decide what is important, and put limits on what you want to do and what you find meaningful.

Create a plan that you can live with and that includes time for self-care and reconnecting with those who matter in your life.

Sometimes we need to set boundaries on spending. This holiday season try to:

  • Avoid taking on any new debt
  • Set a spending limit and stick to it
  • Put your financial needs before others

When the credit-card bill arrives in late January, you find yourself less stressed.

Picture the Holiday you want to have

What is it this holiday season that would make this time extra meaningful? Who is sitting around the table with you at mealtime? Who are those important people that make this holiday special for you? Are you laughing with your kids? Holding your partner’s hand? Listening to an old vinyl record on a snowy evening? Going through an old picture box and sharing the good times you have had with those who are no longer here?

Whatever it is that makes this holiday special for you, be sure to let your partner and family know and take the necessary steps to make it happen. And if something comes up that threatens to take the place of what is truly important for you and your family, give yourself permission to say, “No.”

 

No question that this holiday is going to be different than any other but that does not mean it has to be less meaningful.

On behalf of everyone here at Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada we wish you and your family the very best during the holiday season.