Ellen Slawsby, PhD, of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, shares tips to find peace and joy during the COVID-19 holidays.

Things are going to be different this year, there’s no doubt. But we need to focus on what we do have — not what we don’t have. The COVID-19 holiday season need not be cheerless if we celebrate the good things in life, says Ellen Slawsby, PhD, a psychologist at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

We can use our extra time to start decorating early and cook, bake and create thoughtful gifts to send to friends and relatives.

Look to Home for Joy

We can look on the bright side. We’re not going to be stressed by all the parties and commitments of the holiday season because we’re going to be at home. And that brings lots of other joys with it.

We can use our extra time to start decorating early and cook, bake and create thoughtful gifts to send to friends and relatives.

If you are someone who relishes the hustle and bustles of the holiday season, recreate it by playing holiday songs in your living room. Light a holiday-scented candle in your dining room and bake something in your kitchen. And don’t forego getting dressed up for the holidays — put on your most festive sweater or your favorite tie.

Remember to make time for self-care. One idea it to take a day off work and watch old movies that you love. You can also build time into your schedule to meditate, buy yourself a gift and enjoy a long bath.

Celebrate Safely

Don’t be afraid to go outside — hop in the car and drive around to see the holiday lights, meet a friend for a walk or bring a thermos of hot chocolate and toast your neighbor from the sidewalk. On the bright side, doesn’t that mask keep you oh-so-warm?

Many traditional holidays plans have been shelved — mine included. Thanksgiving was celebrated in the garage with friends, with everything in chafing dishes.

Ellen Slawsby, PhD
Ellen Slawsby, PhD

And in December, instead of our annual pilgrimage to family in the South, my immediate family and I will quarantine for two weeks so that we can all get together for dinner in the Boston area.

If your calendar is strangely empty this year, use it as an opportunity to keep your social support network intact. Try using Zoom to reconnect with old friends and co-workers.

Create a Season of Caring

We can all be a point of positivity.

Consider doing random acts of kindness by helping an elderly neighbor, dropping off treats to a friend, donating to a food pantry and paying it forward at the coffee shop.

Research shows that altruism makes us happier and helps us to lead healthier and longer lives. When we know that we are actively working to make our community and our world better, we derive satisfaction and peace from that.

Stop. Breathe. Reflect.

When we get into the stress response, we can Stop. Breathe. Reflect and Choose how we want to respond. These actions can remove us from the moment of stress and help us have a calmer response to a situation.

If you like to meditate, try a loving, kindness mediation to send goodness into the world for all to share. It is a beautiful, restful and fitting meditation for this time of year.

If you roll with what is really happening, you can find peace and joy in the season.

A new year brings hope — for new beginnings and a vaccine. The key to surviving a COVID holiday is having the grace and humor to look on the bright side.

Think about how next year, we will be in a different space and we’ll have wonderful stories to share around the table and a newfound appreciation for being with friends and family.

The key to thriving during a holiday pandemic is your attitude.

Don’t look for perfection — you’re not going to find it. But if you roll with what is really happening, you can find peace and joy in the season.

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