The holidays feel a little different this year.

After an intense year on so many fronts, many of us are facing an even more challenging season as we navigate what the holiday season looks like in a COVID-19 world.

Whether you’re dealing with continued COVID-19 anxiety, grief, isolation, burnout, or just focusing on trying to find hope this month: We’re here to remind you that all those feelings are valid.

They may seem overwhelming at times, and confusing to understand, but treating yourself and your emotions with compassion this holiday season is so important.

We asked therapists Rachel Gersten and Jor-El Caraballo, co-founders of Viva Wellness, to help us through it. Here’s their advice:

Honor Your Feelings

Noticing how you feel is the first step in showing up for yourself. Try creating space to think about how you're feeling, naming the emotion if you can.

If it feels difficult to name how you're feeling: Try turning to a feelings wheel to help you narrow it down.

Once you’ve sat with the emotion, give yourself permission to explore how you might be able to reframe that feeling and approach it with acceptance.

Remember: Reflecting on this holiday season and the emotions that come up with it can be hard—so take your time with it and be sure to practice self-compassion as you do the work of checking in with yourself.

Make Room for Grief

For so many of us, this holiday season will highlight what we've lost—whether that's our ability to gather, our day-to-day life as we knew it this time last year, or a person we love who's passed away.

Gersten says that making time to feel your grief can allow you to manage it instead of "it managing you."

“Emotions demand to be felt,” Gersten says. “They have this annoying tendency to pop up in unexpected areas if we aren't managing them head on.”

Create space for your grief when it appears—that could mean taking a mindful moment to notice where you feel it most in your body or allowing yourself to reflect on how much you care about what you're missing. The Shine app has a Coping With Grief meditation, voiced by Caraballo, that can help.

If you find yourself comparing your grief to someone else: Know that there is no barometer to these heavy feelings. All of it is valid and it’s OK to feel your feelings, no matter what you might be grieving.

“No one is allowed to tell you what is and isn't, or should or shouldn't be, important to you,” Gersten says. “If it feels like a loss, it's a loss. We've all lost a lot this year, and you don't need to feel like you need to compete with other people in order to feel what you're feeling.”

“No one is allowed to tell you what is and isn't, or should or shouldn't be, important to you. If it feels like a loss, it's a loss."
—Rachel Gersten

Connect with Yourself

It can be hard to find new ways to spend time with ourselves—especially if you've been social distancing for most of the year.

But as Caraballo explains, spending quality time with yourself is still an important act of self-care as we all do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I think that finding ways to self-soothe that are individual and helpful to you is essential in this era of social distancing,” Caraballo said.

He suggests making space to explore the different things you’ve done in the past to feel grounded or balanced and replicate them.

What can also help: Starting a conversation with people you care about to learn how they're practicing self-care during this time. Then, borrow from what's worked for them.

“We're all unprepared for what this pandemic has thrown at us, so we all have to work to find our own individual ways to make it work and that will likely take some trial and error," Caraballo says. "Don't be afraid to try new things—even if they seem silly. You might be shocked by what helps."

Connect With Others

Finding ways to share time and space with others is still an important part of self-care. Connection is still possible during this pandemic—it just requires a little imagination and flexibility.

“While we have encouraging news about the future access to COVID-19 vaccines, we're also seeing increasing rates of the virus across the country," Caraballo says. "Doing our best to adapt means we can maintain our relationships and continue to enjoy the people who mean so much to us."

"Doing our best to adapt means we can maintain our relationships and continue to enjoy the people who mean so much to us."
—Jor-El Caraballo

There are so many creative ways you can use this time to connect more meaningfully with those you love: Writing letters and kicking off a pen-pal friendship can be a great way to connect (while also giving you an excuse for that new set of stationary!).

Or: Virtually watch a holiday movie together, using a plug-in like Netflix Party. With a little creativity and planning, you can still cultivate the feeling of connection during the holidays.

Ask For Help

We’re all juggling a lot of things this year, and sometimes, giving yourself permission to let go of what might not serve you—or get help with things on your plate—can be a game changer when it comes to practicing self-care.

But it can be tough. “We tend to second guess what it would mean to ask for more support when we need it,” Gersten says. “I think that, first and foremost, its important to understand that's something that many people have to work through. You're not alone!”

Gersten shared that many of us feel that asking for help equates weakness, but working to change that requires reflection and compassion.

“I think it's important to reframe that concern and remind yourself that as independent as we may feel at times, we are supported by a broader network and system always," she says. "The resources we have, both materially and emotionally, have helped get us to the place we're currently at in life. Leaning on to those resources, such as family, friends, partners, etc. is a normal (and expected) principle of healthy relationships.”

And if asking for help isn’t something you feel you need to do at this moment, offering help (if you have the capacity) can be a great way to foster community, too.

“Everyone has their own definition of what actions would be helpful and what wouldn't be, but the best thing you can do generally is just show up,” Gersten says. “Send a text, a letter, a small gift, make a phone call… whatever works. Let the person know that you're there for them.”

Just make sure you’re not pouring from an empty cup, she emphasizes. “Something is better than nothing, so even if you can only muster something small, that's more than fine," she says. "It's okay to pull back if you're having a particularly hard day, week, or month.”