Set realistic expectations and connect with loved ones, says one Texas Tech expert.
I've grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older, and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder – need a little Christmas now.
We need a little music, need a little laughter, need a little singing, ringing through the rafter, and we need a little snappy happy ever after – need a little Christmas now.
These lyrics from Johnny Mathis' classic, "We Need a Little Christmas," are felt keenly by many people this year, regardless of what holiday they celebrate and the fact that Thanksgiving is still to come. It's a phenomenon being seen nationwide: people who have been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic for most of this year are ready for a break from anxiety and stress, so they've started the holidays early hoping for some joy and normalcy.
But this year's holidays will undoubtedly feel different, says Christy Rogers, an assistant professor in Texas Tech University's Department of Human Development and Family Sciences who specializes in familial relations and support. That difference could be problematic in its own right.
"When an individual's expectations and thoughts do not match up with the realistic nature of an event, they experience cognitive dissonance, a state that can cause considerable discomfort and psychological stress," she said.
While there may be no place like home for the holidays, that's the situation millions of Americans – and millions more in other nations around the world – find themselves in because of the disease-transmission risk inherent in group celebrations.
"Not being able to gather with family members may be difficult for people this holiday season for a few reasons," Rogers said. "First, given that many people have holiday traditions with their families, these unmet expectations may cause individuals distress. Second, being apart from family members during the holidays may lead individuals to feeling disconnected from their loved ones, which can cause feeling lonely, and in some cases, depressed."
But that's not to say we're all in for a blue Christmas this year. In reality, Rogers said, it will be what we make of it.
"The holidays will definitely feel different this year," she said. "However, people will likely experience it differently depending on how they cope with stress and how well they adapt to new situations.
"Some people may feel less thankful and spirited during the holidays if they emotionally isolate themselves from everyone. However, some people may feel even more thankful and spirited through reflection of what they are grateful for and by thinking of creative ways to connect with their families."
That connection, she emphasized, is key to having a happy Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or a holly jolly Christmas.
"People need people," Rogers said. "Whether we connect in-person, through phone calls, text messages or Zoom calls, or co-experience movies or videos games together, humans need to feel closeness with others to maintain their well-being. People can support one another this holiday season by reaching out to their loved ones and being creative to recreate family rituals.
"Don't assume that your introverted friends prefer to be left alone or that your outgoing brother or sister will be fine. Make an effort to show your loved ones that you care, because we all need that love and compassion now more than ever."