Embracing a Very Different Thanksgiving

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NEW YORK—Like almost everything else that’s happened in 2020, this year’s Thanksgiving celebrations are going to be very different from what we’re used to. Although we’ve been battling COVID-19 for well over half a year now, the passage of time hasn’t actually made missing out on events and gatherings with our loved ones much easier, and Thanksgiving is no exception. For many, this time of year is associated with travel and spending time with loved ones who we might not get to see otherwise—but this year, experts including the CDC have heavily discouraged travel and gathering with people outside our immediate households, in order to control the spread of COVID-19. Although these sacrifices are imperative for protecting physical health, there’s no question that they have an effect on mental health as well—positive in some ways, and negative in others.

While some people might find a bit of relief in not having to see extended family this year, or feel their stress levels drop at the realization that they won’t have to coordinate travel, others are finding it quite tough to spend the holidays alone, or with a smaller group than usual. Things won’t be perfect, that’s for sure, but there are ways to cope with this unwelcome change.

CBS News spoke with Dr. Amanda Fialk, a licensed clinical social worker in New York, who emphasized the importance of making a plan for the holidays this year—even though it’ll look different from years past. Fialk told CBS, “Whatever the plan is, make that plan in advance. Knowing that this holiday is going to look different and you may be celebrating alone makes it imperative that you make a plan for the day that keeps you busy, engaged, and happy.” Those plans can include just about anything you want: sleeping in, meditating, exercising, watching your favorite movies, or cooking a special dinner for yourself and those in your household, for example.

CBS News also spoke with Sara Wellensiek, who runs the creative lifestyle blog Mom Endeavors. Wellensiek pointed out that 2020 is the perfect year to embrace new holiday traditions. She told CBS, “…you could do 'pajama Thanksgiving' where everyone gets new holiday pajamas and you eat in comfy style. You could also put a focus on giving and sharing by having the kids make 'grateful for you' kits to drop off on the doorsteps of friends and loved ones nearby. Focusing on finding ways to make it fun and special for the kids can really help shift the perspective this year into something 'fun and different' instead of just sadness about what is being missed.”

The Mayo Clinic also published some tips for dealing with stress and sadness this holiday season. One of the most important ways to cope, according to the Mayo Clinic, is to acknowledge how you’re feeling: “You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season,” the Clinic wrote. Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings, it might be easier to reach out to loved ones—or your community, be it religious, local, or social. The Mayo Clinic pointed out that many of these communities have online support groups or virtual events to offer support and friendship.

And, of course, you can set up virtual meetings with your loved ones. Families and friends can meet virtually to eat together, or to start new traditions like baking contests, ugly sweater comparisons, trivia games, or movie nights. Things will look different—but the possibilities are still endless.

Finally, Psych Central has an annual Coping with Thanksgiving Guide, which is chock-full of resources to help cope with the holiday, including ways to help yourself be thankful, dealing with less-than-pleasant family members, over or undereating, and more.

There’s no question that this year is not going to be the Thanksgiving many of us have been looking forward to—but that doesn’t mean it has to be horribly sad. With the above resources and community support, Thanksgiving 2020 can still be a time to feel thankful and loved—and, who knows, these changes in tradition might just spark a new way to celebrate.