2020 has been a year of transitions. There’s still almost a month left to go before the new year, but as the winter holidays approach, more and more adjustments will soon need to be made. 

I have never been good at handling transitions, and this year my life was packed full of them. Whenever there’s an upcoming change in my life, I always wish I could skip ahead to the part where I’m already used to it. As we look forward to the first day of winter, and other holiday celebrations, I know things are going to be more different this year than they’ve ever been before. 

Most of the time, change is out of our control. Luckily, we do have control of how we choose to react, cope, and move forward with that change. As someone who wishes it could feel like summertime on the East coast all year round, even the smallest changes – like temperatures dropping – serve as a helpful reminder to get my adjustment tools ready. Now that television commercials are starting to look more red and green than red and blue, I thought I would share a short list of strategies that have helped me this year, and that I plan on using once the holiday season really picks up. 

Reach out to the women who know you best.

Modern technology makes it easy to stay in touch with our friends and family, but sometimes a simple phone call is all it takes to reaffirm our relationships with our loved ones. The women in my life know how important they are to me, but the holiday season tends to speed up our already busy lives. That’s why it’s good to reach out every now and then (even to the friends who send me daily requested photos of their dogs) because you never know whose day you might make with a simple “Just thinking about you!” 

Come up with an actionable form of stress relief. 

As the winter holidays draw near, it’s important to have a few forms of self-care up your sleeve and ready to go. This might include journaling, drawing, meditation, or getting outside. Personally, I like reading (I’m about 150 pages deep in Dune) and playing the piano. The other night, one of my dearest friends sent me a mantra to repeat over and over again along with a reminder to breathe. Doing the action of speaking the mantra out loud and deep breathing worked wonders! No matter what form of self-care you choose, the most important thing is keeping it true to yourself. 

Make a list.

I make lists for everything! They’re simple ways to collect my thoughts and check in with myself. When I feel upset or down, for example, I make a gratitude list. When I feel overwhelmed or anxious, I take a piece of paper and write down five items that I see in whatever room I happen to be in. I’ve made lists of scary obstacles I’ve overcome, lists of career accomplishments, lists of my research interests, all kinds of lists. This year in particular I have a list for highlighting all the positives that came from being stuck at home during a pandemic. I return to it whenever my mind wanders thinking about how difficult this month might be. My anxious brain tells me, “You can’t do this.” But then I pull out my reminder list and read each bullet point. Having in front of me the evidence of my flexibility and perseverance in the face of something I thought I couldn’t do grounds me, and I say back to my brain, “Yes, I can.” That’s why I love making lists. 

I also love bird-watching, so I’ll leave you with this: there’s an excellent spot in the dining room that allows me to look out the window and watch for birds. I get to see all my regulars – cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers – but the other day, I saw for the very first time a dark-eyed junco. Juncos are small sparrows, and the dark-eyed junco is known for its dark gray coloring and distinctive white belly. They’re often called snowbirds because their presence usually signals cold weather ahead. Another year of transitioning from summer to fall to winter was (yet again) difficult for me, but this loathsome cold weather brought to my backyard a beautiful little bird I’d never seen before. 

Getting through the season seems daunting, but each new day brings with it the potential for something great to happen even in the middle of a pandemic. Ladies, you’ve got this!

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The Future of Connection for Women

Claire Groft

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