By Dr. Dana Harris

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we connect. It has forced families to reassess priorities, create different kinds of memories and spend more quality time with loved ones. Navigating this uncharted territory has presented many challenges. Parents are juggling responsibilities with limited or no childcare, taking on home-schooling duties and following disease-prevention measures with care. The holiday season is a stressful time for many reasons but throwing a pandemic into the mix is sure to make this year’s season like no other. Nonetheless, if you manage expectations and plan with intention, it can still be magical.

As a contributing writer for the Augusta Family magazine, I remind readers that each day is full of choices and we only get back what we put into life. It is up to us to work together towards a better tomorrow, even when life’s obstacles arise. Everyone could use some thoughtful advice and encouragement these days. So, in this collection of 26 short, inspiring passages, I hope you will find just that.

Attitude is everything. Reading the news has been a nightmare these past few months. It is easy to have negative thoughts and feelings. You are not alone.  Families across the globe are adapting to the evolving daily changes caused by this global pandemic. Despite it all, maintaining a positive attitude is one of the best things to help one another right now. It is a powerful way of keeping stress and worries at bay.

Be brave. This is a difficult time, but it is just that—a time. Many are cooped up at home working, but some parts of the new normal can be considered a blessing. Now is your chance to do the little enjoyable things that have not always been a top priority.

Call or text your neighbors (especially elderly neighbors) to make sure they are doing okay. Offer comfort and reassurance and ask if there is anything they need (be it a box of tissue or a cup of sugar). Wave to neighbors, take in trash cans, or offer a smile to strangers. Little gestures mean a lot.

Donate to the relief measures and your favorite organization. Millions of nonprofit professionals around the world are working endlessly to deliver services and implement programs during this season. Positive intentions and actions can help strengthen the collective state of mind.

Every parent is familiar with the day-to-day perils of the COVID-19 outbreak. Anxiety is contagious. Children are keenly aware and will react to and follow your reactions. They learn by example. This tremendous opportunity for you to model problem solving, flexibility and compassion is invaluable. Children, too, are under a tremendous amount of stress in facing an unknown future. Remember, facial expressions often communicate much more than our words.

Focus on what you can control. If these last few months have taught us anything, it is that nothing is certain. It is important to allow yourself to mourn missed milestones. It is of equal importance to make an effort to reframe any anxious thoughts since it helps to look at situations from a positive and hopeful perspective.

Gratitude research shows that gratitude is strongly associated with greater happiness. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.  There are always things to be thankful for. Take 5 minutes of your early-morning routine to write down the things that you are grateful for on a piece of paper.

Happy people have a mindset of appreciation and thankfulness.  They stay in the present moment, actively look for the positive.  Although there may be trials along the way, they see opportunities in adversity and lessons in difficult challenges.  Happiness is never a destination mindset—it is about being where you are and savoring the moment.

It takes nurturing hearts to build a happy home. Among the cancellations, lockdowns, the emotional health, and financial threats of the last several months, I am reminded that the one thing we have control over is our mindset and the choices we make.  When we add courage, resilience, hope, optimism, faith and thankfulness to the equation, it propels us to envision what is most important.

Just because the future is uncertain does not mean bad things will happen. When you are faced with uncertainty, it is easy to overestimate the likelihood of something bad occurring and underestimate your ability to cope with it. By challenging your need for certainty, you can begin to let go of negative behaviors, reduce stress and worry, and free up time and energy for the future.

Kindness is free. Life will always have hard moments, but sharing the kindness to practice compassion and empathy for ourselves and for others who are experiencing some tough moments goes a long way. Leave an envelope with a little gift for the Amazon Fresh delivery person. Send a note of appreciation to a friend, colleague or health care worker.  It is front-line workers such as doctors, nurses and transport drivers who take high risks and make the most sacrifices.  Think of those who could benefit from your thoughtfulness and generosity.  Then act.

Life is filled with uncertainty.  A strong mindset is critical to coping with difficult circumstances and facing the unknown. 

Make some new traditions. You and your family could start Saturday morning with a pancake breakfast on the patio or order takeout food on Friday evenings.  Schedule a movie night with popcorn and your favorite thriller. Plan a car party.  If in proximity to loved ones, consider a driveby car parade with poster messages of love and encouragement.  Try a virtual barbecue with neighbors. Holidays are a valuable time for the whole family to catch up, make new memories and grow closer. Do not forget the situation is calling for social distancing, not emotional distancing.

Now is a great opportunity to schedule some you time. Chat with a friend, watch a lighthearted movie, read an inspiring book, meditate, and breathe or listen to uplifting music. 

Optimism is the ability to see the glass as half-full. This outlook enables confidence and hope. It creates an emotional space that reinforces positivity, creativity and perseverance for any situation.

Prioritize and be proud of your efforts to protect your children’s mental health.  Kids always need stability and adults who make a priority of caring for them. Children are neither intricately resilient nor inherently vulnerable. Instead, their well-being arises out of who they are as individuals and their unique life experiences.

Quit worrying about tomorrow, enjoy the present and share some laughs. There is a reason why laughter is called the best medicine. It boosts our immune system, lightens the mood and reduces stress.

Relax and reflect. The holidays are all about relaxing and reflecting on family and traditions.  So, consider a well-earned pause, then reflect on what works and what you would like to adjust and change.  Make reflection part of your new attitude and do what you can to actively engage the family while making the best of your holiday season together. 

Savor each moment. One of the many sacrifices we are making during the new normal is social distancing, and one of the most difficult things from it is missing family gatherings. Having to skip birthday parties, grandparent visits and even funerals adds to the emotional burden of this challenging time—even though we know it is for the greater good. 

Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking to them about their fears and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety. Stay calm, listen and offer reassurance. How you talk about COVID-19 with your child will either increase or decrease your child’s fear.  If true, remind them that your family is healthy, and you are going to do everything within your power to keep loved ones safe and well. 

Utilize this quality time to reach out to friends and family virtually. We are living in the digital age with so many ways to connect with others. There are many ways to choose, whether by telephone, e-mail, video chat, social media, or messaging apps or going old school with a letter or postcard.

Visualize. Only when you see it, can you be it.  The ability to be a visionary is a powerful tool. And while we may not wish to acknowledge it, uncertainty is a natural and unavoidable part of life.  A little vision can go a long way in helping one’s outlook.

Write down your thoughts in a journal. Assess what you have accomplished thus far and create a plan for what you wish to do once this difficult period ends. By doing so, you will be convincing your mind that the crisis will definitely end.

X-out unhappiness.  Adopting the idea of cultivating personal happiness might seem trivial, selfish even, but it could be more important than ever.  All this negative energy and sad news regarding the global pandemic taxes the mind, body and spirit.  It is vital to intentionally counteract this toxic, fearful energy with a conscientious investment in creating happiness.

Yes! It’s true that uncertainty is all around us. The current COVID-19 pandemic has heightened uncertainty in many areas of life. It is important to realize that no matter how helpless and hopeless you feel, there are proactive steps you can take to better deal with uncontrollable circumstances, alleviate anxiety and face the unknown with more confidence.

Zest for life changes the way you process hard times, setbacks and roadblocks. A mental shift produces faith, excitement, possibility, new horizons of success and happiness. Change is tough, but zest helps you and your family to cope, pivot, and adapt to truly appreciate the magic and wonder that the holidays and life has to offer.