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Enjoying a cozy fire is one way to bring joy into your 2021 holiday season. Teraphim/Getty Images
  • Experts say people may be feeling blue this holiday season because the Omicron variant has dashed plans for gatherings and festivities.
  • However, they say there are a number of ways to bring back joy and happiness as 2021 winds down.
  • One way is to think of derailed plans as things that have been postponed, not cancelled.
  • Another way is to be grateful for what you do have, even if it’s something as simple as a morning cup of coffee.

For many people, December 2021 was going to be the holiday season when things returned to normal.

We’d all attend large parties, swap gifts, and hug our neighbors.

However, the Omicron COVID-19 variant has emerged as the troublesome guest no one invited.

Now, we ponder if we are equipped to handle another season of disappointment, sadness, and frustration.

Experts say this: We have no choice.

While the idea of a Zoom family holiday party may no longer feel innovative and cool, there are steps we can take to still make this year a season with a positive reason.

Many people have been living in what could perhaps be called a “bubble of hope” while planning the holiday season.

The latest developments can be a bitter pill to swallow after nearly 2 years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, experts say accepting the situation is a good first step toward having holiday joy.

“We are all angry and irritable and all any of us want for the holidays is freedom,” Mary Joye, a licensed mental health counselor, life coach, and certified family mediator in Florida, told Healthline.

We may even feel a bit let down by our own valiant efforts, Joye said.

“We thought we were out of the woods and that COVID-19 was manageable and now we are forced to retreat again,” she said. “We all want to be free of the constant survival mode and into revival mode as quickly as possible. At first, the vaccine looked like it was the final weapon, but COVID-19 finds its way through.”

This can leave us feeling beaten up and perhaps hopeless.

“This time around, it seems we’re seeing a bout of collective learned helplessness. This concept that no matter what we do, we can’t create change,” Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher, a therapist and licensed mental health counselor in Rhode Island, told Healthline.

The best first step out of that, she said, is reminding yourself that “the belief we can’t create any change is a fallacy.”

Experts say it’s not too late to turn around disappointment during the holiday season.

By adjusting our view of what we need, want, and hope for this holiday season, we can rise above the sadness and angst, Joye said.

The first tip? Reframe your view of things that are changed.

“It is not about canceling plans but postponing them,” Joye said.

Rather than mourn the loss of these weeks, she said, make new reservations for a few months down the road — and then keep that hope alive.

Joye said she has had to roll over an airline ticket three times, something that can upset anyone.

However, “thinking in terms of postponement instead of disappointment,” Joye said, can reduce holiday stress.

Joye also suggests focusing on how this year could be good in a different way.

While you may miss the bustle of a large, friendly gathering, you could also find a new thing to experience: peace.

Use the quieter time to do things you may not have had time for in a busier holiday year.

Take the time to go see lights around towns you never had the time to visit in past years.

Or just light a fire, pour a glass of something you love, and listen to holiday music.

Another tip may sound too simple, but Angela Ficken, a Boston-based psychotherapist, says it works: Appreciate and take stock of what you do have this year.

“Practicing appreciation increases awareness that you have things to be grateful for, which can help reduce challenging emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, and stress,” Ficken told Healthline.

Even the smallest things, she said, can create a positive shift in our brains.

“Feeling appreciation causes us to pay attention to what we do enjoy, have, and love, and leaves less room for any negative thoughts,” she said.

Ficken suggests you take time to think about five things you appreciate at this very moment.

“It can be anything,” she said. “Here are mine: I am grateful that I have eyes that can see, for my morning coffee in my Britney Spears mug, for the work I am doing, for my daughter and family, and for having the heat on this cold December day.”

The idea, she said, is to practice both skills now so they will be on the front burner of your brain when you need them.

And what if, despite all your efforts, you still feel blue?

Here’s what experts recommend.

Practice distraction: Those depressive thoughts and overwhelming sadness tend to stem from the base of your brain.

By tricking your brain to work more from the frontal lobe, you can help yourself move out of that place of hopelessness and train your brain to work harder at helping you see positive.

Some ideas include:

  • Counting by threes. By twos are too easy. Threes make your frontal lobe work and calms down your mind.
  • Watch a 2-minute YouTube video that makes you laugh. Even a quick distraction like that, Ficken said, can ease your woes a bit.
  • Text friends to check in on them and share your current mood. There’s power in numbers when it comes to getting through a tough time, Ficken said.
  • Do for others. Deliver food for the hungry. Offer to wrap a friend’s gifts. Bake and drop off surprise goodies to friends and neighbors.

And of course, if you cannot move out of your sadness, anger, or depression, talk with your friends and a medical professional, if necessary.

“It’s OK to need help,” said Joye.