How to survive and thrive during a COVID Christmas

family Christmas at beach

While borders are slowly opening, COVID restrictions still have the potential to change the Christmas experience for many this year, with people in some parts of Australia potentially separated from family, friends and loved ones.

If you’re facing a very different Christmas this year, then read our expert tips on surviving and thriving during this unusual holiday season.

How to stay positive, even if Christmas is different

This year, it’s more important than ever to connect with loved ones, says Paula Brough, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Griffith University.

For many, the pandemic has changed our priorities and made us realise loved ones are more important than anything else.

“It's a busy time of year and finding the extra time to talk to people can be difficult, but I think we need to make a super effort this year to do that.”

If you have family and friends interstate or overseas and you won’t be able to see them in person, it might make this Christmas extra tough. It can be difficult, too, if family members are living under COVID-19 restrictions overseas.

Connect with loved ones

If you aren’t able to see family or friends this year, then sending homemade cards or gifts is especially meaningful for loved ones who may be in lockdown.

“If you can't be with your family this Christmas, then think about what else you can do. Reach out to people through video calls so they feel connected,” Professor Brough says.

Revive the art of old-fashioned letter writing, suggests Lesley McPherson, a gestalt therapist and counsellor in Sydney.

“Have some treasured photographs printed out and put them in an envelope with your letter. There’s nothing like receiving a traditional Christmas card or letter - it gives the receipient something tangible to hold and look at, and it will certainly spark joy.

“Encourage the entire family to do the same so you can all have something to hold close to your heart around the festive season.”

You can also use technology to connect, McPherson says. “While it’s not the same as hugging a loved one and being in the same room, it still allows us to talk to them in real time, see their facial expressions and feel their love, which is the next best thing.”

Drop the pressure and keep Christmas low-key

Many of us won’t have the energy to have a big Christmas this year, and that’s totally understandable, Professor Brough says. If there are fewer social events and functions, then enjoy the downtime.

“It's often a busy time of year, but a lot of the stress we put on ourselves is totally unnecessary. I think we'll all have a much lower key Christmas than we would normally. Make Christmas all about your family, friends and connections.”

Drop the expectation to have a perfect Christmas, perfect food and perfect house - because ultimately, those things don’t matter as much as connecting with other people.

It’s okay to lose some idealism about Christmas if it means we don’t put as much pressure on ourselves, Professor Brough says.

“It doesn't matter what the food looks like or what your house looks like, just enjoy the company. That's what this year has taught us.”

Volunteer in your community

Doing something altruistic at Christmas can also be really rewarding and fun, Professor Brough says. “It will get you out of the house and get you involved in the community. If you volunteer for the day, you'll get as much out of it as the people you're helping.”

McPherson agrees that volunteering makes you feel good. Just make sure that it can be done in a COVID-safe way, in line with your local requirements.

“If you’re alone at Christmas, consider volunteering to help make Christmas brighter for others. Helping others is a great way to raise ‘feel-good’ endorphins and connect with others, and if Christmas is about anything, it’s about connection.”

Check on your neighbours and bring neighbours together

If you have a neighbour who lives alone, then it’s always great to check in on them at Christmas, McPherson says.

“You could perhaps pop over with a Christmas cake or a bottle of bubbles and let them know you’re there if they want some company.

“While we still need to social distance, you could still have a little neighbourhood front lawn gathering where everyone brings their own plate. It’s not the ideal, but it’s how things are right now, and we have to make the best of what we have.”

Change your plans

If you’re unable to travel, that change of plan could be turned into a positive, McPherson says.

“You could perhaps use the money saved to carry out improvements on your home, or you may like to travel closer to home and explore a part of your state that you haven’t seen before.

“Rent a caravan and take a road trip. Consider taking an empty esky, too – there are still plenty of communities trying to rebuild after the bushfires of 2019 and early 2020.”

Talk to your kids

This year has been challenging for children, with many school excursions, concerts and formals cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. You might not be able to celebrate Christmas in the usual way.

“Talk with your child about it and explain that Christmas is going to be a little bit different this year. Children are often quite understanding,” Professor Brough says.

If you have a Christmas tradition such as going to Christmas carol events, or seeing decorations in the city, that might not be possible this year. “Think of something you can do instead with the family,” Professor Brough says.

Celebrate different customs and traditions

It’s important to recognise that lots of us celebrate religious customs at different times of the year, and not everyone celebrates Christmas or the holiday period in the same way.

Despite this, it’s still a time for everyone to come together as friends, families, colleagues and neighbours to enjoy the holiday season, and get creative and supportive in how we spend our first COVID Christmas together.

Paula Brough is a Professor of Organisational Psychology at Griffith University. Lesley McPherson is a gestalt therapist and counsellor.

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