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Experts: Lack of holiday gatherings could add to an already stressful year

Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 10:34 PM CST
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Experts say the lack of family gatherings this year could make the holiday season even more stressful.

Dr. Emily Kroska, a clinical psychologist at the University of Iowa, says making the decision to not gather with family this holiday season could add to an already stressful year.

“What we’re seeing is people’s competing for values showing up of ‘I want to spend time with my family’ and ‘I would prefer they’re alive at Christmas, and so I want to keep them safe’,” she said.

But she says it’s important to focus on what is possible and be flexible.

“If family is important to you, is there an alternative way to connect? And, I think, when it comes to pre-existing mental health conditions, it may be exacerbated in the case of the pandemic,” Dr. Kroska said.

She suggests finding virtual ways to connect with other family members if possible.

“Is it an inferior option to doing what we always do? Probably,” she said. “But will it keep our communities and our worlds safer? I think so.”

For parents of children who might not understand why things are different this year, she says it’s okay to be honest about what is or what isn’t happening.

“As parents, we can choose to model that it’s okay to feel our feelings,” she said. “When I’m talking with parents of young children, it’s okay to say ‘it’s really sad that we can’t see grandma this year, we can’t have her in our house. It’s okay to be sad. The reason we’re doing that is that it’s important to keep her safe.’ I think to model that, it’s okay to feel our feelings and to label them, to put it right out there. This is sadness and it’s okay to feel that.”

Dr. Kroska says to remember to seek out self-care if needed.

“This is a case where we’re all in this together, so you’re not alone if you’re struggling feeling like this is piling on in the difficult circumstances,” she said. “Every Iowan is experiencing this pandemic in some way, shape or form, and that’s a point of connection.”

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