Tips for physicians, patients to make the most of the holidays amid COVID


“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope,” Martin Luther King, Jr.

This holiday season will be like no other. We will remember it for the rest of our lives, and we will look back to see how we faced the holidays during a pandemic.

Two doctors talk while wearing masks DjelicS/Getty Images

Like the rest of 2020, the holidays will need to be reimagined. Years and even decades of tradition will be broken as we place health above merriment.

Here are a few tips to help all of us and our patients make the most of this holiday season.

  • Reprioritize: This holiday season will be about depth not breadth, quality not quantity, and less not more. Trips are canceled and gatherings have shrunk. We are not running from store to store or party to party. Instead, you will find yourself surrounded by fewer friends and family. Some will be alone to optimally protect their health and the health of others. Do your best to focus on the half-full portion.
  • Embrace change: Don’t compare or try to make this year like previous years. Be creative and try to find ways to make a new format fun. Meeting during the day and limiting alcohol intake can assist in making sure everyone stays safe. It has been interesting to see how many of my patients have decreased their alcohol use during quarantine. I hope this pattern will continue over the next weeks and months.
  • Practice self-care: As health care professionals, we must remember the old adage “physician, heal thyself.” This year has been so difficult for almost all of us. It was filled with unprecedented levels of personal and professional stress. Holidays are often about what we can do for others, but this year we may need to place self-care first. Do what brings you happiness.

With lines between home and work even more eroded as we practice telemedicine, it is important to take time off. Even though you aren’t traveling, you can still disconnect from work. Set up a schedule and stick to it making sure you take plenty of time to rest and enjoy. Many of us have been working extremely long hours and a break is so needed. Take it if you possibly can. Detox from your screen! Limit the news. Creativity and productivity will be enhanced in 2021 if we can come in recharged.

Dr. Eva Ritvo, a psychiatrist who practices in Miami Beach, Fla.

Dr. Eva Ritvo

For those remaining on the front lines, be patient; the end is nearing. Take care of yourself when you are not working. We are all so grateful to those in our field who have sacrificed so much to care for others. Eat, drink, and rest well to keep your immune system strong.

  • Acknowledge your negative emotions: As we all know, if you try to deny negative emotions, they continue to pop up. If we give them time and space to be felt, we will find they diminish in intensity. Long work hours may have prevented us from feeling our emotions, so don’t be surprised if they surface when we take a break.

Let yourself feel the sadness for what you have experienced this year. Be open about missing those who can’t be with you because of travel or other restrictions. Let yourself feel the disappointment about your holiday travel plans that you can’t embark upon.

You may elect to share these emotions with someone close to you or with a professional. To paraphrase Carl Jung, “what we resist, persists,” so don’t try to hide from your negative emotions. Most of us had lots of them in 2020, so don’t be shy about admitting it.

  • Focus on growth: What have we learned from 2020 and how can we be better equipped in 2021 and beyond?

Trauma can bring growth not just disorder. This year has returned well-deserved prestige to our fields. We are being lauded as heroes as we have scarified our health and the health of our loved ones to serve others. Can we choose to celebrate our accomplishments?

We have become more resilient and learned to continue on in the face of great hardship. Many of us have gained confidence as we confronted this historic challenge. As we have been reminded of death daily, we learn to appreciate life more fully and not take any day for granted.

I am proud to be a physician during this pandemic, and I hope you are, too!

  • Find joy: Often times, we find real happiness in smaller moments and experiences. For many, this time of year is filled with so much stress that it can be hard to carve out moments of joy. As we may be less busy socially this holiday season, might we find even more joy?

Joy can only be experienced in the present moment. Tap into all your senses. Eat slowly making sure to smell and taste every bite. Cherish those who can still gather at your table. If you find yourself alone, embrace that experience. Safety must continue to come first, and we can’t let down our guard now.

  • Reflect: New Year’s Eve is always a time for reflection and hope for the future. Most of us will be glad to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. With multiple and very promising vaccines on the horizon, we can anticipate a brighter future. We must continue to work hard; remain patient; and be creative, resilient, and optimistic. Let’s try to fill our days with hope and purpose and work together to achieve a brighter future for all.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow,” Albert Einstein

Wishing you health and happiness in this holiday season and beyond.

Dr. Ritvo, a psychiatrist with more than 25 years’ experience, practices in Miami Beach. She is the author of “Bekindr – The Transformative Power of Kindness” (Hellertown, Pa.: Momosa Publishing, 2018). She also is founder of the Bekindr Global Initiative, a movement aimed at cultivating kindness in the world.

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