December 7, 2020

How to find connection and gratitude this holiday season

Creating social and emotional closeness while maintaining physical distance.

Infectious disease experts and clinicians at Kaiser Permanente agree that staying home for the holidays — not traveling and not gathering — is the best way to protect yourself and those you love from COVID-19. This year many people are feeling grief, along with a deep sense of loss for loved ones, for missed opportunities, for how things used to be.

“We are all experiencing a longing for what was our ‘normal’ life before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lateefah Watford, MD, an adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente. “In addition to financial issues and employment issues, many people feel like they’ve lost a way of life.”

But Dr. Watford explains that living through a pandemic provides a chance to learn about resiliency. “Helping others and practicing acts of gratitude — particularly being grateful for what we have — grows one’s resilience.”

Finding new ways to connect

Virtual connections open up possibilities to rethink what togetherness looks and feels like, creating safer and healthier ways to gather. We can choose to embrace this opportunity to make the best of what’s available and create new joyful traditions.

“Physical distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing. You can still feel connected even when you’re not physically together,” said Anabel Basulto, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Kaiser Permanente.

Think about why you celebrate the holidays and what the season means for you. Basulto suggests making a creative holiday wish list of all the things you can do to inspire feelings of joy and comfort instead of dwelling on what’s been lost. “This holiday season brings a unique opportunity to focus on simple but meaningful things, like being present with each other, playing games, enjoying home-cooked food, and creating alone time for self-care,” said Basulto.

Gratitude is a daily activity

One of the best ways to combat feelings of loneliness and grief any time of year is to cultivate feelings of gratitude.

You can use this holiday season to establish a new habit. Basulto recommends writing down the top 5 things in your life that you’re grateful for, and then repeating them to yourself when you wake up every morning to set the tone for your day. Then, every day before bed, think back over your day and write down 1 or 2 more things you’re grateful for. This will help you stop dwelling on the things that went wrong and start naturally noticing the things that make your life better.

Giving back feels good

The holiday season is a great time to get involved and find ways to help in your community. Seek out ways you and your family can give back this year, either in your neighborhood or virtually around the world, while staying safe and following all the necessary COVID-19 precautions.

“Volunteering for a cause you believe in and giving back always makes you feel good, especially in difficult times,” said Basulto.

By embracing new traditions, recognizing and celebrating what’s good in your life, and giving back to others, it’s possible to experience joy this holiday season and spread cheer all around — for yourself and your loved ones.