ColumnsSmart Health

Persevering through the Pandemic

Finding a new perspective on celebrating the holidays.

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Take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. You have survived what has arguably been one of the most challenging years in modern history.

For many, the holidays and the end of the year can be a time of tremendous stress, as well as a stark reminder of what is missing or has been lost. But in spite of that added angst about the past, milestone moments such as these also invite us to pause, reflect, and plan.

A Cause for Celebration
Finding reasons to celebrate requires us to develop some perspective. A mental review of this challenging year creates an opportunity to incorporate gratitude into our overall practice of health and wellness.

Perhaps there is a person in your life who helped you make it through your darkest days. Is there someone who offered you an encouraging word or a shoulder to lean on? Even if you’re not in perfect health, you can still be grateful for your ability to use your body. Relationships, meaningful work or activities, and admirable character traits can all serve as foundational elements for your personal gratitude practice.

Ask yourself: what three accomplishments am I grateful for today? And how did I personally contribute to those accomplishments? For example, you might consider how you nurtured a particular relationship or began an activity that was enjoyable and meaningful. “Owning” such accomplishments by connecting to the role you played in them can deepen your appreciation of the growth process.

One of the many lessons we’ve learned from this past year is that nothing should be taken for granted. Gratitude encourages us to stop and reflect on how truly fortunate we are. Not because we compare ourselves to those who may be less fortunate, but because we acknowledge all the things that are present to and for us. Cultivating a space for gratitude can deepen our celebratory spirit. From that perspective, the idea of an enjoyable holiday observance may not seem quite so far-fetched.

Holidays, COVID-19 Style
Celebrations that follow the current pandemic protocols come with their own set of challenges, so details need to be worked through. And for a variety of other reasons, you may be unwilling or unable to be with family or friends this year. So how can you approach holiday gatherings both creatively and safely? This is a great opportunity to re-examine old traditions, ditch those that have not served you, and create new ones. The use of technology to connect with loved ones both near and far can be an important way to minimize the holiday doldrums.

Nothing New Under the Sun
As we take stock of the past year’s events, we can see that many of the problems and issues have been around since forever. While COVID may have poured gasoline onto the systemic forces of injustice, it would be wildly inaccurate to suggest that the pandemic created this moral crisis.

The events of the past year served to illuminate and magnify what has always been here. Thanks to widespread media coverage, the problems of racial injustice, violence against LGBTQ people, and mounting mental-health concerns are now being seen more clearly than ever before.

Perhaps there is some comfort to be found here. The conversation around these things can shift. We can move toward greater honesty with ourselves and others, creating a space for response and action. Ask yourself: what new ways can I get involved? What projects can I work on or rededicate myself to? How can I build relationships with my friends, family, and community in a more deliberate and intentional way?

2020 has shown us just how resilient we are. Although we may feel tired and beleaguered, remember that we are still here. The fact that you are still standing is a testament to your strength and perseverance.

In 2020—maybe more than any year in recent memory—it is important that we celebrate. So take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. You made it.

This article appears in the December 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Daryl Shorter, MD

Daryl Shorter, MD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is board certified in both general and addiction psychiatry. His clinical practice focuses on veteran care, and he lectures widely on LGBTQ mental health. Dr. Shorter can be reached at [email protected]

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