With Thanksgiving, Chanukah and a slew of cold days ahead, experts warn it's important to remember that safety practices of the past eight months are worth holding on to — almost as much as a trusted winter coat.
While the holidays and winter will look different this year, Pittsburghers are now experienced in making pandemic-friendly adaptations to traditions, say local mental health professionals. Whether it was figuring out the logistics of keeping a screen clear of matzah crumbs and charoset during a Zoom seder or awakening the soul during Kol Nidre in a dining room, the pandemic forced people to reimagine celebrations and rituals in the name of health.
Leading up to Thanksgiving, teen therapist Stephanie Rodriguez has been reminding clients to focus on themselves and make sure that their “mental health is in check.”
With COVID-19 cases spiking in recent weeks, many parents have become stricter with their children, said Rodriguez, who works at UpStreet, a program of Jewish Family and Community Services.
“It’s causing a lot of my clients to want to stay in their room and not go downstairs and spend time with even just their family that’s in the house,” she said.
Interpersonal connection is essential, says Rodriguez, so whether that’s facilitated by calling family and friends on Thanksgiving, or taking time to do so during the upcoming weeks, teens must keep connecting. Even if it’s for only 20 or 25 minutes a day, teens should leave their rooms and go watch a movie with family, play a game with siblings or go for a walk outside.
Despite falling temperatures, making it less pleasant to go outside, it’s still possible to have safe and meaningful social interactions, said Maggie Feinstein, director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership.
Feinstein has lived in both Pittsburgh and Alaska, so she appreciates the challenges of navigating the cold. “Dreading the potential of the weather can be limiting and self-limiting,” she said. The better approach is simply to prepare and make sure to get outside, smell the trees and absorb some vitamin D. Even on the worst days, she points out, “getting outside can be so satisfying.”
“Everyone is sick of the pandemic,” said Stefanie Small, clinical services director at JFCS. “Everyone is sick of having to take precautions. Everyone wants to throw caution to the wind, but now is when it's the most important to try to do all those things and try to be careful.”
Whether it’s on Thanksgiving or during any of the upcoming holidays, people may want to forgo social distancing or mask-wearing, but that's wrong, continued Small. She recalled the words of Dr. Mark Horne, Mississippi State Medical Association president, during a Nov. 12 Zoom meeting with colleagues: “We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas,” said Horne.
“It’s going to happen. You’re going to say ‘hi’ at Thanksgiving, ‘it’s so nice to see you,’ and you’re either going to be visiting her by FaceTime in the ICU or planning a small funeral by Christmas.”
“We all want the traditions of the past,” Small said. “As Pittsburghers we for sure want the comfort of what we've always done — but this year is not like every other year. This year has to be considered different.”
Feinstein said it can be helpful to give back during this unusual holiday time: Whether it’s delivering a plate of cookies to an isolated neighbor or having children make cards for someone, there are multiple ways to offer care or compassion this season. Adopting these practices not only helps others but can combat one’s own sense of loneliness.
Keeping a positive outlook will help, Small noted.
“Remember that this year is an anomaly,” she said. “We don't think we're going to have to do this in 2021, or 2022, or going forward.” Pittsburghers “are hearty people,” she said. “We can do this.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.