Most families would say that the holiday season normally brings both elements of joy and difficulty. But as COVID-19 continues to loom, some of our joyful experiences are more challenging or may not happen at all.

What can we do to prepare and make this holiday season happy and enjoyable with our families? While there might be a family cookbook passed down through generations, no one has a family playbook for how to reorganize the holidays based on pandemic restrictions and recommendations. Here are a few suggestions to make the holiday season more merry and bright:

1. Embrace Change

There will be changes. The only question is, whether you can allow yourself and your family to be open to these changes, or allow them to cause undue levels of frustration and disruption. If we go into the holiday season expecting things to remain the same, we are bound for disappointment. Before having any discussions with your family about the holidays, adjust your mindset to consider a few things:

  • The most important holiday tradition is connecting with loved ones and showing them how much you care.
  • Family traditions will not be lost because of one missed year.
  • If your group is open-minded, you might find a fun, new tradition that you want to try.
  • Not everyone will agree at the start. Be ready for a dialogue.

2. Make Plans Early

One of the best parts of the holiday season for many people is looking forward to traditional activities, meals and gatherings. If those are not going to happen this year, try thinking as far ahead as possible and make other plans, so you and your family still have things to anticipate. Some things might involve unique ways to connect with family or friends, like using technology, creating a new activity, or starting something new with your local family at home. Search the internet for creative ideas or ways to use technology. There are virtual games, ways to watch movies and lots of ideas out there if you plan. When talking with your family and friends, it can be helpful to have a few ideas to get things started so that everyone knows there are possibilities.

3. Be Mindful of Those Who Have Less Social Support

Try to think of family, friends and neighbors who might have less local social support and offer to include them in festivities or drop something off at their door. It is an act of kindness that won't be forgotten, and helps children learn a valuable lesson about kindness and gratitude. Share a portion of a meal, make an art project to give them or invite them to participate in a socially distant outdoor activity. It will benefit your family as much as the person receiving the act of kindness

4. Focus on Giving This Year

There is data to support the old saying, "It's better to give than to receive." This year, commit as a family to give more than usual. This can be through sponsoring a family, donating to a worthy cause or giving your time to volunteer in the community. Despite restrictions on large gatherings and social distancing requirements, there are plenty of ways to get involved in your community if you seek them out.

5. When in Doubt, Get Back to Self-Care

With all the busy plans many of us have around the holidays, it’s easy to let our normal routines go. Ensure you stick to your self-care routine for you and your family to stay well. If you don't already make time for self-care, there's no better time to start. Here are some activities to help guide you:

  • Get some exercise, and include your family to help create good habits for everyone. There are thousands of free workouts online that you can follow from home with no equipment needed.
  • If you live in a warmer climate, or enjoy getting outside in the cold weather, take a hike, find a new park or nature preserve or walk in your local neighborhood.
  • Take time for mindfulness activities as well. Teach your children to be able to sit and recognize the world around them. The sounds, sights and smells they might normally ignore. Mindfulness helps our brains reset and keeps us feeling well.

It’s no secret this year has been challenging, and many of us will be faced with increased stress this holiday season. But, if we plan ahead and focus on things that are in our control, we can all make it through, and bring joy to ourselves and our families in the process. That is what the holiday season is all about.