Ingram Blog

Let Your Heart Be Light: Surviving the Holidays After Things (and We) Fall Apart


By Ann Lehue, MSIS, Senior Manager, Collection Development

Last December, I dutifully signed up to write my annual article about having a snarky holiday—I’m so snarky naturally that my writing professor in college forbade me from writing my essays in that voice, and my parents’ mantra was, “No one loves a smart aleck.” Harsh. It’s easier to do a snarky holiday article during a good year when everything sounds like horrible exaggeration instead of prophecy. It’s easier to get the right tone when we’re all in a state of manic frazzle rather than exhausted hypervigilance. To our library friends and family who’ve lost loved ones, jobs, library funding, homes, relationships, and even hope, I’m so sorry. I grieve with you for all the plans you looked forward to but that did not happen, that budget cuts will hurt the people in the community who have already suffered the most in our communities, that this virus took away some of our coworkers and loved ones, that things will never be the same.

I don’t think any of us are in the mood to make fun of the holidays, and my writing veered into rage and despair when I tried. So, instead, we have the second annual article on self-help during the holidays (I wrote last year’s when I was trying to follow my writing professor’s advice—proving, I think, that she was wrong about needing different voices—that clearly disrupted the natural order of things).

The holiday season will be extra hard this year with the collision of a pandemic, a divided election, decreased social support leading into the holiday, and shutdown-related unemployment, all mixed in with a big dose of fear. “Human beings are built to deal with crises that are short term,” said Dr. Carl Fleisher, Medical Director of the Boston Child Study CenterSurveys show that stress, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and sadness often increase with the holidays, even in people who also feel love and excitement during this season, and even in a “normal” time. Moreover, many people will have to break traditions this year to prevent the spread of the virus and will feel more isolated and disappointed than usual.

Harvard Medical School offers some tips from their healthcare workers for making it through the pandemic:

  • Acknowledge the turbulence—check in with yourself, grieve your losses, and allow yourself to check out regularly.
  • Fuel your body with healthy food.
  • Move your body.
  • Prioritize sleep.
  • Find ways to connect socially.
  • Ease stress through gratitude and positive thinking.

Although just a few self-care books speak specifically to the holidays and some to the pandemic, many general titles apply especially during this time and can help people make both short- and long-term changes in their lives that may ease some of the pain or spur them to find help.

The coronavirus inspired many writers to fill in some of the gaps with collections of writing to support bookselling and publishing charities. Filled with essays, poems, and interviews from influential authors, Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of COVID-19 serves as a lifeline for negotiating how to connect and thrive during this stressful time of isolation. And We Came Outside and Saw the Stars Again: Writers from Around the World on the Covid-19 Pandemic offers “stirring reflections to illuminate dark times,” according to Kirkus Reviews (8/15/2020). Poetry often soothes the lonely soul, and Alice Quinn brings hope and meaning with Together in a Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond to the Pandemic.

Brene Brown has been a hopeful voice on social media during this time. Returning to one of her classics on perfectionism in a very imperfect year, The Gifts of Imperfection explores “how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough..." For parents who want to help their children during this time, the award-winning The Emotionally Healthy Child: Helping Children Calm, Center, and Make Smarter Choices helps children learn to respond to stress and adverse experiences with mindfulness and emotional awareness.

Introducing a few minutes of meditation each day can help provide some relief from stress and depression. Thich Nhat Hanh’s Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions offers techniques for diffusing anger, conquering fear, and cultivating love. Beth Kempton’s Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year “provides a cozy retreat from the pressure of striving for perfection. Instead of starting the New Year exhausted, in debt, and filled with regret, you will rejoice in memories of the season feeling rested, rejuvenated, inspired, and calm.”

For libraries open to the browsing public, one simple way to help patrons—and library workers—deal with holiday stress and depression is to create an easily findable display to make seeking help easy and self-serve. In addition to some of the books in our links below, you can place cards with your local mental health agencies and domestic violence and suicide hotlines that can easily be discretely pocketed by those in need, or by those who want to be able to help others. Libraries currently offering curbside service only, can perhaps include these tools in the bags or on a bookmark.

And remember Anne Lamott’s philosophy: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

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