Mentally Preparing for the Holidays

By Katie MacDougall, LPC


While every family is unique, we here at Morning Light Christian Counseling can only imagine that your holiday gatherings will look somewhat different from last year’s. For some that may only mean minor changes, but others may be facing larger adjustments such as canceling events, paring back Christmas spending, or preparing for family dinners knowing there will be less faces around the table than last year.

Even some of our cherished Christmas carol lyrics may hit differently—most wonderful time of the year? Not in 2020. But can we perhaps shift our perspective? While there is not a lot we may have control over, we can control our attitudes and outlooks, and that includes how we approach the holidays.

While only you can know what you and your family most need, here are some helpful things to think through in adjusting your mindset toward the 2020 holiday season.

Acknowledge the Sorrows

We know that families are facing a wide range of sorrows, from modified or cancelled holiday plans to more severe losses like the loss of income, health, or loved ones. Wherever your losses fall, it’s important to actually acknowledge them. Ignoring the past year won’t serve you or your loved ones and it doesn’t make you a “stronger” person to stuff the negative feelings. Psalm 30:5b (ESV) says, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Acknowledging losses and changes will not lessen the grief associated with a year of sorrows; however, it will be a step toward freedom. That freedom will make the coming of joy possible. 

This goes for the kids in your life too! Allow them to express their disappointment, sadness, and anger. This will help them feel seen within the family unit and lets them know they are in a safe place to process their feelings. This felt safety is one of the keys to help children learn how to suffer well. While suffering produces endurance and character, avoidance of suffering produces entitlement, weakness, and disobedience. 

We would also encourage you to find ways to externalize your grief in a meaningful way, perhaps with a prayer, a poem, an ornament, or lighting a candle. Remember that grieving is part of the healing process. Remembering can be especially meaningful during holidays and anniversaries. Don’t rush it and don’t diminish its role, even during the holiday season. 

Examine Your Expectations

Christmas 2020 won’t be the same as Christmas 2019. Make that clear in your mind. The surroundings, size of gathering, and type of activities may all be different. Even with changes in celebrations, we know the temptation is there to put undue expectations on a party, a tradition, or a recipe to cover up wounds and losses without dealing with them. 

If that’s the case for you, adjust your expectations. Hold the tradition lightly; enjoy it for what it is, but don’t expect it to magically erase all the pain and sorrow. Allow the bitter and sweet to co-exist. After all, the co-existence of suffering and joy is a central theme in the Gospel. 

Also, give yourself grace and set the boundaries. If you are struggling with family and friend demands about attendance at events, remember that invitations are not subpoenas. Communicate with loved ones about how you are feeling and let them know you may change your mind last minute to attend or not attend. While it may be difficult to do, it’s worth it in the end to protect your mental and physical health. As Christians, it can also appear mean or “un-Christian” to set boundaries. Yet, Jesus set boundaries with us. Jesus Himself declares, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). His message states only one option for salvation from our sin. There is a clear boundary. Only one way to heaven. If your boundary for holidays is prayed over and consistent with Scripture, you are modeling this life-giving message well. 

If you need to distance yourself from more events than usual this year, give yourself permission to do so. Remember, it won’t always feel like this. You will have a chance to make a different decision next year. Give those guilt feelings to God and seek help from one of our counselors if you keep struggling with boundaries and guilt.

Make Room for Changes

Make room for those changes, because they will be unavoidable this year. If you are hosting your family, perhaps a temporary change you can make is to order food from a local restaurant instead of the burden of preparing food when your mental and emotional energy is not there. You only have so much mental and emotional reserves. The holidays often push us to our limits and we need to recognize that the pandemic has already eaten a lot of our reserves. So make those shopping lists, menus, and plans accordingly. 

Be ready to respect a loved one’s decision that you don’t agree with. Focus on togetherness instead of holding tightly to traditions that may not serve your family or community well in this season. 

While change can be intimidating on one side, the other side is that change can often open the door for beautiful new traditions to be established. Keep an open mind as you go throughout this month and be on the lookout for those special moments that are on their way to becoming treasured traditions. In Scripture, the Lord often uses change to help grow His people. Who knows, this upside-down Christmas season may be something the Lord uses to grow your family closer or to grow you as an individual closer to Him. 

We hope these suggestions will lighten your mental load and allow you to engage and receive joy from upcoming celebrations. We want you to know that you are not alone in your grief and struggles. If you think you would benefit from resuming counseling or starting your counseling journey, reach out to us today to schedule an appointment.

About the Author

Katie MacDougall holds a Master of Divinity with a specialization in Counseling from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a Bachelor of Science from Oklahoma City University. She is an ​Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Certified Therapist, which is a research-based method to help those suffering from traumatic events.

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