We blinked — and the holidays are here. (Thanks 2021!)
The American Automobile Association estimates that more than 53.4 million people will travel this holiday season — that’s up 13 percent from last year and the highest single-year increase since 2005.
While people are clearly excited to celebrate the season without the aid of videoconferencing (and give their loved ones real-life hugs) this year, anxiety related to having potentially awkward discussions about COVID-19 has already started to rear its head for some of us.
Carbon Health Regional Clinical Director Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, says while some fears are justified, there are things you can do now to ensure that everyone experiences holiday cheer this year and for years to come.
Already anxious about potentially awkward silences or tense disagreements with your relatives? Curry-Winchell says that having uncomfortable conversations now makes for smoother sailing when everyone is in the same room to celebrate a holiday.
“Take the time to reflect on what is most important to you during the holidays, and share your thoughts with your loved ones and friends,” she recommends. “Creating an open dialogue for a respectful conversation is key. This can create a space to share your reasons for feeling the way you do.”
Hosting the holidays at your house? Clearly share your ground rules with attendees before the event.
“It’s important to be upfront with your family members and guests,” Curry-Winchell says. “Underscore the importance of lowering the risk of exposure at your gathering. If you are met with resistance by a family member, share with them that you love them and are open to connecting via a phone call or Zoom meeting to discuss rules they might not be comfortable with.”
Reiterate that your goal is for everyone to stay healthy and enjoy the holiday.
While getting the COVID-19 vaccine might feel like a no-brainer to you, some of your relatives might have a different view.
“I would start with sharing your vaccine status and your reasoning for deciding to get vaccinated,” she says. “This can provide insight into the importance of getting the vaccine.”
She adds, “Not all unvaccinated people are ‘anti-vaxxers.’ Some people are hesitant because of how new the vaccine is and are looking for more medical data. Some are concerned about vaccine side effects, some may be afraid of needles, and some want to understand how the vaccine may affect their health…. It’s important to remember that being respectful and nonjudgmental will go a long way during your conversations, and that changing someone’s mind may require multiple conversations.”
Curry-Winchell advises that shaming someone over their status is the quickest way to cause conflict. “Instead of shaming or combating with impersonal facts, focus on listening, understanding their hesitations, and personalizing the conversation to their specific concerns. Repeat their concerns out loud to show empathy, and acknowledge that their hesitations are legitimate and that we are living through challenging times”
She continues, “Ask questions to see what may persuade them to overcome their hesitancy. Connect on an emotional level and share recent humanizing stories of people who chose not to receive the vaccine and are expressing public regret as they lay in the hospital or remain severely ill. Most importantly, focus on your shared future and express unconditional love and concern for their safety. By focusing on the future of your family, you may break through the walls that evidence-based data might not overcome.”
Everyone’s COVID-19 comfort levels are different, but when it comes to you and your home, you call the shots.
Curry-Winchell encourages you to stay true to what’s important for you and your family. If that means everyone should be vaccinated or receive a negative COVID-19 test before entering your home, you have every right to enforce this rule. However, be sure to share these expectations with each guest and give them the opportunity to accept or decline your invitation instead of surprising them at the door.
But what if a family member outright refuses to follow the rules of your household?
“Explain why you have those specific rules in your household and how it makes you feel when they aren’t followed,” says Curry-Winchell. “How would they feel if the specific rules in their home were not followed? This approach may help your family members understand your perspective.”
Feel empowered to take care of yourself and your well-being by declining invitations that just make you uncomfortable this year. We are still in a global pandemic, and it is OK to feel that some festivities can’t and shouldn’t proceed “as normal.”
If you have questions about how to navigate this holiday season or need to get a COVID-19 or flu vaccination, download the Carbon Health app or visit carbonhealth.com to make a virtual or in-person appointment with a healthcare provider.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.