SALT LAKE CITY — This holiday season looks very different for many families, without many of the usual traditions. But different isn't always a bad thing. One Utah family has found a way to enjoy the slower pace this December.
This time of year is usually filled with the hustle and bustle of the season. "Lots of choir concerts, orchestra concerts, band concerts, piano recitals, and lots of basketball tournaments … neighborhood parties and ward parties and all kinds of family parties," Angelina listed.
"Sometimes it does get overwhelming because it's like, 'OK, we have three things tonight and we have to get everything in," she added.
Despite a break in tradition, Angelina, who describes herself as a very social person, is enjoying a slower, simpler and less stressful December.
"It's been a lot more time for me and my family to be together and do things that we haven't ever done before," she explained.
She's embraced the stillness of the year. "So we cook together a lot. We make candy and we have watched a lot of movies," Angelina described.
Her family has also watched Christmas concerts from the comfort of their own home and found ways to serve others in new and meaningful ways.
"This year we were able to do a Sub for Santa because I had more time on my hands," she said. "I finally had the energy, and the mental energy to actually think about, 'OK, I can go shopping for all these other people instead of just trying to get the gifts that I need for my family.'"
Angelina has also made an effort to touch base with those in her circle. "Just looking out for all the neighbors and trying to talk to them or see them or if we can deliver your little gift," she said.
Angelina admits that she was very stressed at the beginning of the pandemic. She says she still has days when fear and stress overwhelm her, but she's tried to make the best of what she can control. "This year has been a lot simpler," she said, "very love-filled for me and just very heartfelt."
Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Travis Mickelson, a psychiatrist and associate medical director of mental health integration, acknowledges this year has been filled with a lot of uncertainty and that the differences we are experiencing this holiday season may be hard. But he says it's possible to embrace new traditions and says it starts with service.
"Serving others and taking care of others feels better to me and feels more soothing to me, probably more than it ever has before," he said. "(It's a) great time to go out and shovel the sidewalks of our elderly neighbor or drop off something on their, on their front porch. This year more than ever before, that might be more meaningful to us just because of the struggles we've all been hearing about."
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While many can't see each other in person this year, Mickelson says it's more important than ever to stay connected. "Try to have these conversations over Zoom or FaceTime, so that you can see faces and facial expressions … there's far more powerful of a connection than if we're just texting," he explained.
Mickelson says there are many studies that show that social connectedness increases our physical and mental health. "It improves our immune system, it improves our inflammatory system, it improves our sleep, it improves our empathy for other people," he explained.
He also says it's important for people to manage their expectations this holiday season. "We need to really allow ourselves to acknowledge how we're feeling," Mickelson said. "If we're experiencing more stress and more anxiety, we need to really be able to acknowledge those emotions."
Mickelson encourages people to focus on what they do have, even if their celebration is within the walls of their own home this year. "It gives us an opportunity to really appreciate our smaller family unit," he said.
"I've actually felt the Christmas spirit a whole lot more this year, just because of all that other stuff was gone away, and we just have what we have here at home," Angelina said