Monday, December 7, 2020

How to Find Your Holiday Happy Place

Image by Marcos Garzo from Pixabay

The holidays are a stressful time in a normal year, but this year hasn't been exactly normal. My family had to cancel our yearly trip to visit family and friends in Hawaii, we spent Thanksgiving jumping from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting, and we couldn't have dinner at the table because that was my new office. When expected routines get tossed out the window, it can be a real panic moment trying to find a way back to normalcy. 

Because Covid kept us indoors for most of this year, our new routines looked very different: 

  • Ordering groceries online and either doing delivery or pick-up or going right when the stores opened to get in and get out before any crowds showed up 
  • Working from home required dividing the house into separate workstations so the husband had the guest room, I modified the dining room, and my son carved out a section of the living room
  • Limiting times when we absolutely need to leave the house, like for soccer practice and doctor appointments
After six months of this, we got used to the new routines, but we certainly didn't like them. And with the holidays rolling in, it almost felt even more stressful because we weren't gathering together like we used to. But after experiencing Thanksgiving, I realized I was making the holidays more stressful than it needed to be. So I made it a priority to carve out a "happy place" both mentally and physically so that I wouldn't let the stress overwhelm me. Here's what I did.

Illustration of video calls
Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Make Happy Connections

We need to feel connected to others, and while video chats are great, it isn't the same as in-person conversation. But video calls don't have to feel impersonal. You can make it almost like an in-person conversation.

When I wanted to "see" friends or family, I would ask if they wanted to do a video chat, either through FaceTime, Zoom, or Google Meet. Then whether I was on my phone or on the laptop, I made sure my conversation companions could see more than just my head and shoulders. This is because body language is such an important part of communication, and I do tend to talk with my hands. And if technical glitches happened, we could still chat, or have a group phone call (Google Duo can accommodate up to 12 people in a phone call).

But what if you have cold sweats thinking about video calls? Here are some ways to change your mindset so the idea of being on video doesn't seem so scary.

Background anxiety 

Video calls can ratchet up anxious feelings. How do I look? How does my room look? Can everyone even see my room? What if I just turn off my camera - Aunt June won't mind, right? OMGeee, is that a PIMPLE?! (Adult acne is real, folks.)

First off, no you should not turn off your camera. Not unless you have poor internet connection; and in that case, you should have a picture of yourself or the family as a placeholder if your video call app allows one. It's not safe to get together in person, so the only way your friends and family are going to see you is on that camera. 

Second, carve out space where you can make your video calls and commit to just cleaning that little space that can be seen in the background. Or you can use a virtual background, although when there is more than one person in the frame the background might get a little weird and distracting. A clean space or snazzy background will make you happy to show yourself off on camera.

It's not a beauty contest

Also, these are your loved ones. Most of them have probably seen you in nothing but a diaper. As long as you are comfortable, there is no reason to go into the group meeting like it was the job interview of a lifetime.  Brush your hair and teeth, get out of your pajamas. After that, who cares?

It might be a little different if you're "meeting up" with friends you haven't seen in a while, in which case maybe dress things up a little. But again, these aren't your co-workers or people you need to impress. Your friends know you and love you - otherwise, they wouldn't have agreed to a Zoom meetup.

How you look and feel is important, but shouldn't be a source of stress when the people who will see you are people you already know. Virtual gatherings are just as informal and familiar as if everyone were gathering at Grandma Ethel's house. Maybe better, because you don't have to worry about whether you're contribution to the dinner is the same as Cousin Eddie's.

Give Others (and Yourself) Grace

When we first had to contend with stay-at-home mandates, we took the opportunity to do things around the house that we normally don't have time for. In between meetings, my husband and I would sit together over coffee or a snack and just chat. After an hour of writing, I would spend 15 minutes decluttering a section of the house. Between virtual classes, my son would take his soccer ball outside and juggle for a few minutes. Since we didn't have to commute, once work was done, we could start on small projects around the house.

But as Covid wore on into the summer months, we started feeling the burn out of being stuck at home. The house started to feel overwhelming. The family started to feel bored. The weather was nice and there wasn't anyone we felt safe enough to share it with. And as summer moved into fall and the days got shorter, we all started feeling quite depressed. Suddenly, all those precautions felt like a burden preventing us from being engaged in the world, especially when we had to cancel trips and get-togethers for the holidays.

It's okay to feel upset that your life is being restricted by something out of your control. It's fine to feel sad that you can't see loved ones whenever you want. It's alright to feel frustrated that you can't make a simple trip to the grocery store without remembering to arm yourself with a mask and hand sanitizer. Be upset. Be sad. Be frustrated. Give yourself the grace to feel all the emotions welling up inside you and acknowledge them. 

Then offer that same grace to others. Because even if other people may not be as vigilant as you with regards to social distancing, or choose to ignore stay-at-home or mask-wearing mandates, they are making their choices for the same reasons you are: anger, sadness, frustration. Be understanding of them as you should be of yourself. 

Especially during the holidays, when it is expected that we all gather as families, be extra generous with your grace. Your happy place should be in your perseverance in maintaining a safe environment for yourself and others, and being an example to your friends and family. 

Create a Physical Happy Place

kittens cuddling
Cats can always find a happy place

It is not as important for me to have a clutter-free home anymore. My rule now is as long as it's clean, I can live with the pile of stuff strewn randomly around the house. But there is one exception to this rule: the bedroom. 

See, we can all have a mental happy place but we also need a physical happy place - somewhere we can retreat to where we can momentarily forget that life is kind of sucking right now. I chose to make that our bedroom because obviously, it's where we sleep. But it's also where my husband exercises while watching tv, it's where I read a book by the window. Where we unwind.

Having a private, physical space to decompress and recharge is important to your overall well-being. maybe your happy place is out in your garden, soaking in a bathtub, or walking your dog down the street and back. Wherever it is, keep your happy place clean and organized. Keeping your bedroom, bathroom, workshop, or tool shed clutter-free and clean will encourage your mind to declutter and scrub away the heaviness of our current reality. If your happy place is outdoors, just remember to "leave only your footprints." 

Journaling Gratitude

Another way to recharge yourself is to start a gratitude journal. Writing down all the little (and big) things that you are thankful for lightens your mood because you can see- through the words on the page - that things aren't as bad as we sometimes make them out to be. A journal can be a simple notebook where you write down your thoughts for the day, what you're thankful for, and the nice things you experienced that day. 

I don't write in it every day, but I try to be as consistent as possible. Some days, I'm grateful for the same things I mentioned the day before! Here's what I wrote on Thanksgiving after dinner:

Today was wonderful! I got to see family during two Zoom meetings, once in the morning and again in the afternoon. I got to see cousins that I hadn't seen in over seven years! I cooked a really good turkey dinner with gluten-free stuffing that tasted unusually delicious. I'm especially proud that I didn't set off the fire alarm. 

The entries don't have to be novels, a few sentences work just fine. Sometimes we forget that things aren't as bad as they seem and we just need quick reminders of how wonderful our lives are. 

Final Thoughts

This holiday season and beyond, if you ever feel like you're in a deep hole and can't seem to get out of it, you have family and friends who can help you find your happy place. I know who they are for me because I wrote about how grateful I was to have them in my life! But if you can't think of anyone to reach out to in your moment of crisis, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline where someone will give you the support you need right there over the phone or online. 

Do you have any tips on finding your mental or physical happy place? Let me know by sending me an email and I would love to add your ideas to a follow-up post!

It's the end of the year, not the end of the world. Hang in there, you got this!

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