How to deal with the emotional heartbreak of not seeing friends and family at Christmas

December 16, 2020 10:24:00 AM

How to deal with the emotional heartbreak of not seeing friends and family at Christmas

Should we be seeing family this Christmas? This is the anguished dilemma many are grappling with as the big day draws closer.

Covid restrictions are currently set to be eased over the festive period, but people are being encouraged to make a “personal judgement” on whether to visit loved ones, and to act sensibly and responsibly if they do choose to spend the holidays with others.

If you have made the incredibly tough decision to stay home this year, it will almost certainly be a little heartbreaking. It’s hard to imagine the big day without mum’s cooking, dad’s terrible jokes or popping to the local pub for a pint with your nearest and dearest.

Here, we asked experts how we can best emotionally prepare ourselves for the prospect of Christmas spent apart from family…

1. Allow yourself to feel disappointed

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After a difficult year, the thought of missing Christmas too can be hard to accept. While it’s natural to feel upset, Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist on behalf of Healthspan, says it’s important you don’t let the loss consume you.

“Process the emotions, but try to do it without getting stuck in ruminative thought patterns,” she says. “Think about feelings like taking a bath; at first it’s doing its job, but after too long the water gets rather murky and unhelpful.”

2. Consider the alternatives

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While you might not be able to drive back to your parents’ house, perhaps you can plan something fun to do at home instead? Making a new plan can help you feel more settled.

“Aligning expectations with coronavirus reality will prevent you from feeling further heartbreak,” says Dr Arroll, “so face the restrictions head on and decide as a family how you’ll manage these.”

3. Try incorporating some new traditions

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It can be hard to let go of old rituals and routines but this year you may have to find ways to have a joyful day despite Covid. Experts say that one of the best ways to embrace this is to plan a Christmas completely unlike your usual family celebrations.

“By doing things differently, even in the tiniest way, you won’t be triggered by memories that could upset you on Christmas,” says grief and loss counsellor Lianna Champ. “Make a conscious decision to reset the ‘Christmas spirit button’ and make new memories. You could try having beef if you normally have turkey, or allow yourself to spend the day in Christmas pyjamas if you normally dress smartly for the day.”

4. Stay connected with technology

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Although you may not be able to be physically near your family, video conferencing apps allow us to still check in on the big day.

“Create a family zoom meeting where you can all be connected for 60 minutes on Christmas Day,” says Neil Wilkie, creator of online therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm. “Taking it in turns, each of you could share a story of something you have learnt this year, what you would like next year to be like, and one wish you would like to grant each member of your family.”

If you’re tired of video calls, keep in touch over WhatsApp instead. “You don’t have to all be sitting on Zoom but everyone in the family could agree to watch the Queen’s Speech when it’s aired to create a sense of ‘together-although-apart’,” adds Dr Arroll.

5. See the New Year as a fresh slate

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Most of us can agree it’s been a pretty rubbish year. The one upside? We’ll all be cheering to see the back of 2020 on New Year’s Eve, and that ‘fresh year’ spirit will feel better than ever.

“With the expectations of the Christmas period lowered, the ‘emotional comedown’ will feel like less of a drop this January,” says relationship counsellor Mig Bennett. “Use the New Year as an opportunity to assess the challenges or changes 2020 has brought to you.

“Acknowledge what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown, or what you still need to work on. Remember to say thank you to your partner and family for things you’ve appreciated too.”

6. Try to see the funny side

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2020 has been a tough one for everyone, but try to find some humour in the chaos if you can.

“While it will be incredibly hard to be apart from your nearest and dearest, do you best to make the most of the situation,” says Bennett. “The important thing is that you and your family are healthy and you can always celebrate again together when you’re allowed.”

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