Thriving vs. Surviving the Holidays During a Pandemic

The holidays are hard. And as we find ourselves in yet another holiday season, many are simply celebrating the end of an incredibly difficult year. Loss, stress, and uncertainty seems to be theme of conversations these days. COVID fatigue has struck hard and amid such circumstances, it may be even harder to navigate the holidays, which are so commonly depicted as such a joyous time. In this blog, we explore ways to approach the holidays through a concept of gratitude in the midst of such difficulty.

This holiday season will be different. Many have radically accepted that, but radical acceptance does not negate the sense of grief that comes from what will not be this year. We need to create space for that discomfort rather than attempting to dodge those feelings.

However, most agree that finding a sense of hope in the amidst the suffering is just as critical.

One strategy we encourage is the practice of gratitude - and it is a practice. It is not a strategy that you will use once and feel a complete change; however, there is ample supporting evidence that the practice of gratitude not only promotes well-being and enhance positive feelings, but it can also result in better sleep, stronger immune systems, prevent burnout, improve self-worth, and lessen feelings of loneliness, as well as much, much more (Emmons, 2010).

The Practice of Cultivating Gratitude

How does this work?

Leading gratitude researcher and psychologist, Robert Emmons (2013), helps us understand the process of gratitude:

 “It is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t have total control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. Feelings follow from the way we look at the world, thoughts we have about the way things are, the way things should be, and the distance between these two points. 

Therefore, gratitude in the midst of crisis creates a perspective that can give some temporary reprieve from emotional suffering.

The Neuroscience of Gratitude

We also know through advancements in brain imaging technology, that practice of new behaviors, such as written or verbal expression of gratitude, can build new neuropathways in the brain. Through repetition, we strengthen these pathways and after a period of time the new behavior becomes the default habit. This is a process known as neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity means that our brains are capable of developing a default neural network of gratitude, or any other habit we would like to cultivate.  This means that if it feels unnatural, the more you participate in the practice, the more natural gratitude becomes.  Therefore, participation and practice of gratitude, while it feels unnatural, leads to actual changes in your brain that over time begin to feel more natural!.

Put it into Practice!

In an effort to encourage the practice of Gratitude over the past couple of weeks, SLN invited the community to participate in a gratitude photo scavenger hunt. Participants were given a theme of gratitude each day, posting a photo of using #SLNgratitudechallenge. We saw great results, but it does not have to end there! Time based challenges are great ways to encourage and practice new habits, such as Gratitude.  Challenge your friends or family to see who can hold the streak the longest.  Practicing gratitude does not have to involve big pronouncements of thanks; they can be small, such as being thankful for a good cup of coffee.  If you'd like some ideas for themes of gratitude, like us on Facebook or Instagram for more details.  


Holleigh Woodward, LPC

Emily Krauter, Administrative & Social Media Assistant


Emmons, R. (2010, November 16). Why gratitude is good. Retrieved from

Emmons, R. (2013, May 13). How gratitude can help you through hard times. Retrieved from

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