What a Year!
2020. What a year. We’ve all heard the jokes about how COVID-19 has magically slowed time, resulting in a year that feels like five years’ time. The stress of navigating a pandemic would have been more than enough for Americans to stay on their toes, but as the saying goes — when it rains, it pours. The COVID-19 infection rate and death toll continues to rise, forcing us to completely and continually change the landscape of our daily lives.
As a nation, we are grieving and suffering. We are experiencing heightened racial tension, political polarization, and economic uncertainty. Since March, depression and anxiety have become more prevalent in the general population, but especially in those under 40 years old (Xiong et al., 2020). If you or your loved ones are struggling, you are not alone. They are not alone.
With all this stress and suffering, how are we supposed to experience joy this holiday season? Isn’t it supposed to be the most wonderful time of year?
First, acknowledge your pain, stress, or anxiety. These are all normal emotional experiences during hard times. Take a moment to pause and consider what these emotions may be trying to communicate to you. Oftentimes, our emotions hold valuable information about our innermost fears, desires, and needs. Maybe you need rest. Maybe you are searching for peace, comfort, or connection.
Reflecting inward affords you some time to respond to the situation or to your emotions with intentionality. Victor Frankl, a twentieth century psychiatrist and philosopher who studied the meaning of life, states, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (1984). You may not be able to prevent or stop the negative emotions you experience, but you can learn to practice joy in spite of suffering. Joy is not an emotion per se but rather a mindset. Being filled with joy means you are choosing to focus your attention on the good in this world and the good in others. Through joy, you can experience love and connection. You become a source of light in an otherwise dark world.
This holiday season, you have an opportunity to experience joy for yourself and to share joy in your relationships and in your community. Cultivate joy in your heart by inviting thoughts that will uplift and empower you. Keep a daily gratitude memo. Assume the best in others. Sing along to your favorite Christmas carols.
We are made for connection, but when we get overwhelmed, we tend to isolate ourselves from community. Reach out and share joy by connecting with others in a meaningful way. Call an old friend. Remind your children that they are loved and that things will get better. Set new holiday traditions. Put your phone down while your partner is trying to talk to you. Volunteer your time and resources to help a local charity. Choose joy. Spread joy.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NIV
Emily Lash, MA, NCC, LPC
Frankl, V. E. (1984). Man's search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Xiong, J., Lipsitz, O., Nasri, F., Lui, L., Gill, H., Phan, L., Chen-Li, D., Iacobucci, M., Ho, R., Majeed, A., and McIntyre, R. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on mental health in the general population: A systematic review. J Affect Disord., 277, 55-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2020.08.001