Multiple officials and experts ask residents to reconsider Thanksgiving plans.

ALEXANDRIA-We all know it has been a difficult year. And it has not ended yet, even though it feels like 365,000 days.

We still have holidays to get through. A time of year usually filled with happy anticipation and excitement is instead…. filled with uncertainty, struggle, and questions.

Dr. Kim Penberthy, Chester F. Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Science at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Board Certified Licensed Clinical Psychologist, knows holidays are already stressful. She realizes people want hard and fast answers about how to handle gatherings this year. 

“Unfortunately,” she said, “The CDC and the Virginia Department of Health are providing multiple options which respect people’s right to free will, but also create uncertainty.”

Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, a physician, has repeatedly reiterated that “this virus spreads through the air” and has offered tips on how families should approach Thanksgiving amid the ongoing pandemic. 

He suggests for Virginians who are planning to gather with those who don’t live in their own household:

  • Consider how the space is ventilated
  • Think about ways to have gatherings outdoors 
  • Wash your hands
  • Consider smaller gatherings
  • Wear a mask 

According to Dr. Penberthy, whose book Living Mindfully Across the Lifespan :An Intergenerational Guide, was written during this past spring’s COVID-19 lockdown in collaboration with her daughter, a yoga /meditation instructor/health education professional, people may be confused by conflicting guidance from the CDC and Virginia government.

“The CDC recommends limiting celebrations to people in your immediate family and those with whom you live,” Penberthy said. “Virginia’s guidelines say gatherings should be limited to 25 people. This is confusing.”

‘Choose the Safe Option’ 

She explains that even those with the steadiest personalities are reaching the end of their patience. She urges everyone to be satisfied with the status quo and not to make demands of themselves and those they love. 

“The main priority at this time is to stay safe,” she says. “When in doubt, choose the safe option.”

“I know of many grandparents who have opted out of the holidays this year in order to protect their health,” she said. “Many people feel they need permission to not make demands and have expectations of themselves during the holiday season. So, I, and other mental health professionals, are giving them this permission.’

She suggests that instead of stressing to make all our holiday foods ourselves, we should consider supporting local business and purchase all or part of our meals from them. This decreases stress and helps the local economy.

On the bright side, she has heard many anecdotes of people using social media to reach out to long-lost friends, neighbors, and others they have lost touch with. She encourages everyone to follow these examples and make sure to reach out to others who may be alone this holiday season. 

“I know everyone may be burnt out on platforms like Zoom, but we are fortunate to have the ability to connect to others in ways not available to those who lived through the 1918 pandemic,” she stated.

The watch words from these professionals boil down this way: use common sense, lower expectations, take short cuts, honor peoples’ choices, and keep it simple.

Jackie Fishman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her at info@vadogwood.com.