Group offering guidance for families torn about gathering with loved ones during holidays

Updated: Dec. 17, 2020 at 5:06 AM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - It’s only eight days from Christmas and some doctors said they’re extremely concerned about families letting down their guards and allowing gatherings amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes after people learned of an ‘early Christmas present’ to relieve a bit of the pandemic dangers - the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

Doctors say despite the good news of a having a vaccine, the COVID-19 threat is still real, even during the holidays.

Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs for Tidelands Health, says the hospital is excited about having the vaccine but he doesn’t want the community to think this means people can start letting their guards down anytime soon.

Harmon says Christmas time is a joyous occasion for many people but because of the global emergency, people need to make plans that will keep them safe and that means putting a hold on traveling and gatherings.

“I know for religious, family, community, social needs, we want to get together for the holidays,” Harmon said. “But being together physically right now in a closed environment with large gatherings of people that are going to want to hug and share emotions, that’s dangerous right now. That’s [putting] your family and community at risk. We’re going to ask you to minimize all the gatherings, we’re going to ask you to continue to social distance. We’re going to speak against traveling and closed vehicles for long distances. I know that’s something we want to do, but that’s something we can’t recommend that just right now.”

Kenza Haddock is the clinical director for Oceanic Counseling Group, which has two locations in Surfside Beach. She says like so many people across the country, some of her clients didn’t expect the pandemic to last this long and never planned on not being able to hold gatherings for Christmas.

She says right now, some of her clients are trying to figure out if they should bring their kids to see grandparents, a population at greater risk of contracting the virus. On the other side, she said some patients are struggling with thoughts of being isolated or lonely if they don’t see their loved ones.

For anyone facing that situation this Christmas season, Haddock recommends they look at things a bit different.

“It’s very helpful for us to transition from this holiday season, [saying] I’m spending time alone and I’m going to be all by myself, but I am keeping my family safe this holiday season,” Haddock said.

She said the first thing people need to do is make a conscious decision to step back and focus on what they’re feeling, to ensure they make the best decision based on facts and not emotions.

“For example, let’s say I’m not going to go spend time with the family this holiday season,” Haddock said. “And I say [to myself] ‘This is terrible; I can’t believe this is happening.’ That’s going to produce a totally different emotional state than from saying this is not ideal but at least me and my family are going to be safe.”

Haddock said in order to get to that place, people need to first make a conscious decision to be proactive and not reactive during the decision-making phase. This means focusing on what it is you’re thinking about in that moment, to ensure your actions will be based on facts and not feelings.

“You have to take a step back, reflect on how you’re feeling about seeing family,” she said. “Once you acknowledge your feelings and validate them, don’t internalize, don’t explode on anyone. Just validate yourself.”

Some families may be concerned about disappointing relatives if they decline from attending a holiday gathering. Haddock recommends making the best decision for your family, and once you you make that decision, commit to it.

“You have to go for it,” she said. “You have to speak assertively. You have to create those boundaries because safety comes first.”

Suggestions Haddock made about making this Christmas special in the event people decline attending gatherings is to create new holiday traditions with loved ones.

“In the midst of this pandemic, we can modify traditions or even start our own family traditions,” Haddock said. “Wear matching pajamas and watch a Christmas movie. Bake a cake, go out and volunteer, use your time proactively. You can always nurture your current relationships. There’s FaceTime, Zoom calls, stay connected with people. That’s very important.”

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