This year has been one we won’t forget in a hurry. Thanks to the pandemic we’ve been restricted in ways we could never have imagined and felt its impact in every single aspect of our lives. Whilst there is hope on the horizon with the development of vaccinations, unfortunately, this Christmas has the potential to be very different to what we’re used.

However, we’re all in the same boat, so how can we cope with a Christmas that might look and feel very different to what we recognise, and how can we avoid the dreaded January deflation?

Coping with a restricted Christmas

Every year, we have strong expectations about what we want out of Christmas, whether that be a family-oriented bonanza, or a calendar-filled December. But there’s no getting round the reality of this year, and the truth that it’s going to be different, which is going to be a stressful thing for people to accept and understand.

With this in mind this Christmas is a perfect opportunity to develop new rituals and traditions. These new rituals could allow us to connect in different ways, and have new, exciting experiences. We need to bear in mind that this year will hopefully be a one off, and next Christmas we’ll hopefully be back to normality. But for this year, we need to think ‘what can I do differently’ or ‘how can I be creative’. Hopefully this is a one-off experience, so accepting that and finding different creative ways to do what we normally do, but remotely, will be energising and inject something new into our winter season. Each and every one of us has shown how agile we can be during this pandemic, so we can bring this mindset to Christmas.

Use this as a time to self-reflect

This time of year is an ideal opportunity for self-reflection. Look back on the last year and think ‘what have I learnt from this?’, ‘what can I bring with me into the future?’ and ‘what have I learnt about myself and those around me?’. Winter is a reflective time, and traditionally a time of moving inwards, so reflection can be helpful if managed well. Also ask yourself ‘were my previous Christmases as good as I think they were?’ we tend to look back with rose tinted glasses, and the festivities can in fact be incredibly stressful experiences. With expectations to meet and the pressure we pile onto ourselves to achieve ‘perfect’ and ‘make memories’.

Importantly, don’t forget to give yourself credit for surviving this year. Whilst many of us might not have got through it unscathed, we ultimately made it through almost an entire year of a pandemic.

Battling disappointment

When expectation doesn’t meet reality, there’s only ever disappointment. That can then bring up feelings of shame and guilt, as well as feeling as though you’ve not done enough. Allow yourself to feel those emotions, and then focus on what you can realistically achieve, rather than what you can’t do. Our brains have a negativity bias, and therefore will always focus on what we haven’t got, or on what we can’t do. Look instead at ‘what can I do in this situation?’.

At the minute, many of us are battling variations of grief but we may also be experiencing ambiguous loss. As well as potentially losing loved ones this year, we’ve also lost the structure and rituals we look forward to at this time. Lots of little loses like this can develop into guilt and we must remember that feeling like this is ok and completely normal. Ambiguous loss takes a toll on people, and these feelings are valid. Whilst it’s easy to do so, don’t look at it with a ‘people have it worse than you’ mindset, as it isn’t helpful. If you allow yourself to recognise those feelings, you can direct the emotion of this energy into something productive, and it helps to make meaning out of the loss we’re experiencing.

Beat the January deflation

In January we tend to start planning our year, we book holidays and events, and begin to look forward to what is to come. But 2021 is likely to remain uncertain. Unfortunately, we aren’t going to wake up on January the 1st and Covid-19 be a distant memory. It’s therefore so important to focus on purpose, direction and realistic achievements for the coming year. This will allow people to still have achievable goals that will fulfil our need for motivation. These will without a doubt be different to usual, but they’re so important for us to think about.

2020 has been wild, and we need to try and make sure it doesn’t get the better of us as we approach the end of the year. Remember to be kind to yourself and try to enjoy all the moments of the Christmas season that you can. There’s no guilt in having a good time and sharing experiences with others as long as we hold in mind to act sensibly and reasonably in light of the fact that the virus is still with us. Realistic hope is needed more than ever now for a better and brighter 2021.

As lockdown continues, we face new challenges. We want to help you maintain a sense of balance and control in your lives, and that’s why CABA is building on the ‘Keeping Yourself Well’ campaign hub with new and relevant advice and information. New self-help articles on topics such as how to maintain a work-life blend, redundancy, coping with the new normal and preparing for winter are now available, along with information on all of our support services. Our content covers all areas of wellbeing – mental, physical, career, financial, care and relationships – and we’ll continue to add more useful resources in line with what’s happening in the world.

By Kirsty Lilley, mental health expert at CABA, the wellbeing charity

CABA provides free lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, and their close family members across the globe. Find out more about how CABA can support your ACA employees at caba.org.uk.

If you’re worried about the impact of the pandemic on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you at cabamywellbeing.org.uk.