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How To Cope During The Holiday Season In a Pandemic

Dr. Nadine J. Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, gives some tips for navigating the holiday season during a pandemic.
Dr. Nadine J. Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, gives some tips for navigating the holiday season during a pandemic.
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With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning people not to travel and to limit gatherings to your immediate households, many families are canceling or modifying their Thanksgiving plans to stay safe.

For some people, the sudden loss of holiday traditions in an already fraught year is taking a toll on mental health. But there are ways to combat this.

Dr. Nadine J. Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, suggests coming up with ways to make the most of this holiday season. Whether that means a virtual Thanksgiving with family and friends or volunteering, trying to keep traditions alive and even make new ones will be helpful.

“I think one thing is just sort of to recognize how you’re feeling. Be compassionate toward yourself around those feelings and be accepting of them,” she said. “Have some people you can talk to about them, acknowledge what you’ve lost. There’s been a lot of loss right now.”

Robin Jones Zoubek, an education director in Atlanta, said that her family is attempting to navigate a great loss on top of dealing with a pandemic during the holidays.

“My huge extended family lost our patriarch, my grandfather, right before lockdowns started in March, and this would be our first Thanksgiving without him. That alone would be difficult, so the fact that we cannot gather at all and embrace the family that remains is extra painful for me.”

Zoubek says she and her husband will have an intimate dinner since even gatherings of their immediate families would be more people than they are comfortable with.

“We’ll probably FaceTime or Zoom with family at some point. Just trying to focus on what I can control, which is the food, basically. Just the food,” she said.

Kaslow confirms that concentrating on things we can control during this time is the best course of action, but she is particularly concerned that many people who have lost loved ones cannot mourn properly at a time when coming together should be a given. She encourages people to find creative ways to acknowledge their grief, like sharing pictures or lighting a candle.

“So not pretending it’s not happening. But just finding different ways,” she said. “Maybe they’re not as good, but they’re better than just not doing it at all.”

And in the true spirit of Thanksgiving, she suggests we also focus on the things we’re grateful for.

“We need to think about what we can be grateful for during these times. What are we thankful for? Because we have to balance all that with what we’ve lost.”