Coping with the Holidays When Apart From Loved Ones

Coping with the Holidays When Apart From Loved Ones

The holidays can be a difficult time for many. This year it may be enhanced due to health and safety concerns impacting your ability to visit your loved ones. This has been a challenging year and connecting with family and friends has been even more difficult for some people. If you are looking for some support or ideas to help manage the holidays this year, you are not alone. Here are some ways that could be helpful as you begin to think about what the holiday season may look like for you and your loved ones.

Make Self-Care a priority

Everyone has a different definition of what self-care is and therefore it is unique to each individual. Self-care is taking action to protect or improve one’s health (both physical and mental). Take some time to reflect on what self-care means and looks like to you. What makes you feel good? What makes you feel taken care of? This year, it might need to look a little different, so planning ahead of time could be beneficial. Here are a few examples of how you can plan ahead to make self-care a priority:

  • Start saving some money now that you can dedicate to self-care activities during the holidays
  • Record or find where you can watch your favourite holiday movie or comfort movie so you know how to access it when you need it
  • Make a playlist of songs that bring you joy or comfort
  • Ask family members and friends to collaborate on a playlist you can both listen to throughout the holidays, even if you are physically apart
  • Plan to cut back on social media if you feel it will have a negative impact on you over the holidays (this may include letting loved ones know you will only be accessible via phone or text at certain times)
  • Plan ways to make your space at home as cozy and comfortable as possible
  • If possible, section off your space and dedicate each area to a different activity to promote the feeling of “leaving the home” as you move around.

Pay attention to your feelings

There is no right or wrong way to feel. How you feel is a result of your thoughts, experiences and insights about the world around you. This means that how you feel about situations can, and will, be different from your loved ones. Your feelings are valid; and it can be hard to remember that.
Validate your feelings

You can validate your own feelings by naming your emotions, identifying where you feel that emotion physically (example: My stomach feels upset, my face feels tight) and trying to not make negative comments about yourself. Try making a list of affirmations you can say to yourself such as “I will try to slow down and make time to notice my feelings” or “I know that my feelings matter and have value”. It can be hard to get into this habit, and may feel silly at first. Our brains are muscles and we have to train and exercise them just like our other muscles. If we practice validating our feelings the hope is that it will become second nature to us. Start practicing now before the holidays, so it is easier to recall these skills when they arrive!

Practice Gratitude (Self-Gratitude too!)

People can be hesitant about gratitude journals as they may feel it is too time-consuming or it is not something they can see themselves doing. That is totally fine! Gratitude journals can be really beneficial; however, they are not necessary to practicing gratitude. Another effective way of exercising gratitude is to speak out loud or share with a loved one five things you are grateful for from the day. This can be done at the end of the day or the next morning, reflecting on the day before. On more difficult days it can be hard to find five things to be grateful for, however these are the days when it is important to complete this exercise. It can be small things like being grateful for the cup of coffee you had. It is also helpful to utilize this for self-gratitude by using the five things to emphasize choices you have made and accomplishments you have achieved. You can choose to write these down, send them to a loved one in a text or email, or express it to them over the phone.

Set Boundaries

Without the need to travel from place to place, you may be asked to participate in multiple video or phone calls in one day. Your loved ones may think the time you saved in not having travel can be used for more time to connect with them.

Setting boundaries can be a challenge, especially around the holidays, as it requires us to practice saying no. There might be more pressure to say yes to activities and calls this year if you are unable to visit loved ones due to COVID-19. Setting boundaries is important because it is one way we take care of ourselves. It also benefits our loved ones because by setting boundaries we are allowing our best selves to be present when we connect with them. If we spread ourselves too thin, or become overwhelmed, we often end up giving a tired and drained version of ourselves. We can start doing this by paying attention to when and with whom we feel most drained. If it is a certain time of day, we can plan to limit our interactions during that time and connect with loved ones earlier or later in the day. If it is specific people, we may have to limit the amount of time we spend interacting with them. Take time to re-energize if you need it, and decide if an activity means enough to you to spend some of your valuable energy on it.

Find Unique ways to safely bring people together

As we continue to work and connect virtually, we may begin to experience “Zoom fatigue”. Research suggests that this feeling comes from the expectation to always be “on”, just like our cameras. The increased screen time can contribute to this fatigue as well. Here are a few unique ways you can bring your loved ones together in a safe way that is different from the typical “Zoom call”:

  • Find board games that be played online or virtually
  • Games like Catan and Codenames are both available to play online for free
  • Cook a meal together virtually
  • Watch a movie together while apart
  • “Netflix Party” is a way to watch Netflix with loved ones as it synchronizes video playback and adds a group chat
  • Surprise a loved one by asking family and friends to submit video messages to you saying hi or for a special occasion.
  • You can then put them all together and send it out!
  • Organize a virtual gift or letter exchange
  • Use an online gift exchange generator to anonymously provide everyone involved with another’s name. Ensure everyone has a list of the addresses of those involved and await your surprise in the mail!

Access support when you need it

Often people express that they do not reach out for support from loved ones because they do not want to be a burden. This is especially true during the holiday season which can bring increased stress and busier schedules for many. If you are uncomfortable seeking support from loved ones, look for support in other areas.

Togetherall is a peer-to-peer platform and a safe space to connect with others who may be experiencing similar feelings. They ensure that all members are anonymous to each other within the community and is available online 24/7. Professionally trained mental health support monitor the community and if you don’t feel comfortable sharing right away, they have many useful resources accessible too.
If you are interested, go to to learn more.

Mental Health Apps

Mindshift CBT is an interactive app that uses cognitive-behavioural tools that help shift your thinking and behaviour to support actions towards change. It also provides quick and easy tools to help ground yourself if you need help with anxiety fast. A few of the highlights of this app are:
• Coping cards
• Facing fears gradually through exposures
• Checking-in & Goal Setting
The app is available in the iPhone App store as well as Google Play store. Creating an account is quick and easy, giving you options to proceed. You can submit how you feel, provide details about the anxiety you are experiencing, tools for managing anxiety, set goals or spend time learning about anxiety.

Search for “Mindshift CBT” in your app store or to learn more.

MoodMission uses evidence-based therapies and principles to help you learn new ways of coping with low moods and anxious feelings. Fill out a brief survey about yourself, your moods, and your emotions to begin logging how you feel and completing “missions”, or coping skills. When you enter how you feel into the app, it will suggest 5 quick and easy “missions” for you to complete. Each “mission” will explain the objective and why it helps based on your mood. The app is free or you can choose to pay for “expeditions” which expand on skills learned through the app..

Search “MoodMission” in the app store or to learn more.

Happify is a scientific approach to bring you tools and exercises to engage you in positive change. Activities and games can be used anytime anywhere, accessible through your phone, tablet or computer. Once you download the app you will be asked a few questions to help customize your experience. You can then choose whether you want to use the app in private mode or community mode. In community mode you can get encouragement and feedback from other members. Based on the answers provided, the app will display a “recommended track” to learn and develop coping skills. There are “tracks” for different topics such as relationships, personal growth, family and kids, work and money mindfulness and mediation as well as health & well-being. Each of these topics have free “tracks” and some even include access to a digital coach. Some of the “tracks” are considered premium and require payment.

Search “Happify: for Stress & Worry” or just “Happify” in the app store or for more information.

Article By:
Sarah Green, BAH, BSW, RSW

Family Liaison Officer/Prevention Support & Intervention Worker
Kingston Military Family Resource Centre