Talking with U of M

Talking the holidays during a pandemic with U of M

Mary Jo Kreitzer
Mary Jo Kreitzer

This year, the holidays will look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mary Jo Kreitzer with the University of Minnesota talks about how people can cope, create new traditions and more.

Q: How will the holidays look different this year? 
Dr. Kreitzer:
It is safe to say that none of us have ever experienced major holidays during a pandemic and it is likely that the holidays this year will look very different! In addition to not having large gatherings of family and friends, there won’t be the usual run of parties, concerts and plays. Many will opt to participate in religious services virtually. 

Q: What can people do to cope with these changes?
Dr. Kreitzer:
I think that the mindset we enter the holidays with can make all the difference. Rather than focus on our losses and what we cannot do, a different approach is to focus on the opportunity to create new memories and traditions. If you are gathering with a small group or only your immediate family, ask people what is important to them. Getting input is so valuable. It shares the burden (and joy) of planning. Instead of trying to recreate what happens year after year, create new experiences. Who knows? Something new you do this year just might become a lasting tradition. 

For people who are alone at the holidays and for families that are dispersed geographically, our newly developed Zoom skills will come in handy. I have heard of families and small groups that still plan on eating together or opening gifts together via technology. If you and your family are yearning for a concert or to see a holiday tradition such as “The Christmas Carol,” look online! So many of our local theater and choral groups are creating special performances that can be accessed online. 

Q: What should people say to loved ones who don’t want to take any safety precautions in gathering?
Dr. Kreitzer:
Each of us is responsible for setting boundaries that we are comfortable with and I encourage people to not be hesitant to stick to those boundaries even if it makes people uncomfortable. The advice from the health care experts is very clear. Avoid gatherings, particularly indoor gatherings, practice physical distancing, wear masks and wash hands frequently. In Minnesota, the recent increase in Covid-19 cases is tied to small, everyday gatherings. Many people are experiencing pandemic fatigue and this is not the time to let our guard down. Unfortunately, family gatherings are just as unsafe as any other social gathering at this time. The pandemic in most areas of the country is at a stage of uncontrollable community spread. Traveling distances and getting together with people who may or may not have been taking safety precautions seriously is risky. 

Q: How do you politely say “no” to a social gathering?
Dr. Kreitzer:
A lengthy explanation is unnecessary. You can be polite as well as short and sweet — thanking the person for the invitation and noting that you are avoiding in-person gatherings due to COVID-19 right now.

Q: As the founder and director, what are some resources from the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing that can help people adapt to the holidays this year? 
Dr. Kreitzer:
The Bakken Center’s website Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing is a great source of information on ways to improve the wellbeing of you and your family! There are also some great articles on Healthy Holiday Tips, Mindful Eating, Mindful Holiday Giving and When the Holidays Aren’t Joyful.

Mary Jo Kreitzer is the founder and director of the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing and a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota. Her areas of expertise include mindfulness-based stress reduction, integrative therapies and healing practices and optimal healing environments.

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