Podcast: Celebrating a COVID Christmas

We made it by the end of 2020! From the polarization of politics to raging fires to COVID-19, it was a real sucker. And now the holidays … do we celebrate with loved ones and risk COVID or do we take a passport? What are the risks?

On today's show, our guest Dr. John Grohol, founder of Psych Central, that this won't be our regular holiday season and that's fine: we can easily make lemonade out of lemons.


Guest information for Dr. John Grohol COVID Christmas Podcast Episode

John M. Grohol, Psy.D. is a pioneer in online mental health and psychology. Recognizing the educational and social potential of the internet, In 1995, he founded Psych Central as one of the first mental health and psychology websites to offer information on symptoms and treatments for mental disorders, including interactive screening tests and self-help tools. Dr. Grohol changed the way people can access mental health and psychology resources online, and his leadership has helped break down the barriers of stigma often associated with mental health issues, provide trustworthy resources, and bring communities to the internet .

He has worked tirelessly as a patient advocate to improve the quality of information available to mental health patients, highlight high quality mental health resources, and build safe, private support communities and social networks on a wide range of health topics.

Dr. Grohol holds a Masters and PhD in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University and is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Computer in human behavior. He is a founding member of the Society for Participatory Medicine and is the author of The Insider's Guide to Online Mental Health Resources (Guilford).

Via the Psych Central Podcast Host

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and public speaker living with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Insanity is an asshole and other observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website gabehoward.com.

Computer generated transcript for “Dr. John Grohol COVID Christmas Episode

Editor's note:: Please note that this transcript was computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors. Many thanks.

Announcer: they listen The Psych Central Podcast, where visiting experts in the fields of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information in simple everyday language. Here is your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week's episode of The Psych Central Podcast. I'm your host, Gabe Howard, and I'm calling the show today. We have Dr. John Grohol. Dr. Grohol is the founder of PsychCentral.com and a frequent guest on our show. He has been writing on online behavior, mental health, and psychology since 1995. Dr. John, welcome to the show.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: It's good to be with you again, Gabe.

Gabe Howard: We are definitely happy that you are here. Now, almost every year since its inception, The Psych Central Podcast has set itself the goal of filming an episode about surviving the holidays, managing holiday expectations, and topics related to maintaining our sanity during the hustle and bustle of the season. Last year when I was recording this episode I thought to myself, didn't we cover that area? Can't someone just listen to last year's episodes and get all the insights they need? Am I just repeating myself? The point was that I thought I was going to skip the "Surviving the Holidays" episode in 2020 because I really felt like we had all the ground there was to cover. And then enter COVID. And it has created a whole new set of themes related to the holidays. Well Dr. Grohol, as a doctor and researcher, you took the unpopular yet practical stance of advising people not to meet in person during the holidays.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: For clarity, we should probably not meet outside of our family bubble, which is just your immediate family. So if your family unit consists of two, three, four people, those people should come together. You shouldn't invite extended relatives.

Gabe Howard: My family meets like once a year and we come from many different states across the country. We're all 20 in my parents' 1,800-square-foot ranch house. You think something like this should be put on hold this year.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: You have, you can imagine having a risk bucket every week and every time you need to go out and interact in public, even with a mask, even with social distancing, add a little little to that risk bucket Add water. Over the course of a week, you may have a quarter of a bucket full of risks that you took to increase your risk of developing COVID-19. When you have a big family gathering and frankly, people are not going to wear masks, they will have to take them off to eat and drink. So there is no surefire way to really have these kind of big family gatherings without basically filling your bucket for this week and being overflowing with the potential risk of catching COVID-19. And too many people have been doing that in the past month or two because they took the opportunity to go to a restaurant or bar and take off their masks and not distance themselves socially. And that's why we're seeing the sharp rise in new cases. It's about how safe you want to be. Would you like to go the other side of this pandemic alive and in good health? More importantly, do you want your family members to get to the other side of the pandemic alive and in good health? Of course, you don't just have to think about yourself here. You need to think about your family members, especially those who are older or have pre-existing health problems, as most Americans actually do.

Gabe Howard: One of the things I think is important is that the way America has dealt with the pandemic is that each state really decides for itself how to deal with it. For example, I'm in Ohio. My family is in Tennessee. It's a world full of differences. I don't think Tennessee ever closed restaurants while Ohio did for a period of time. So just remember that it's important to point it out because maybe it's okay to get together in Ohio if the whole country is handling it like Ohio. The reason I am bringing this up is because you think it is adding to some turmoil in families where people in different states look at each other. Why are you canceling Christmas? We did everything right. Why are you canceling our meeting? We masked ourselves. We are prepared for that. But in reality, depending on where you live, you've literally done nothing.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Let's get to the heart of the matter. The virus doesn't care about government guidelines. The virus doesn't care about national mandates or masking mandates. The virus will spread every time you are indoors with other people. And one of these people can be asymptomatic. You have no symptoms of the virus and you are infected and do not know it. And so it is spread. It's not being spread by people who have symptoms because they clearly understand, hey wait, I could have the virus. I will do a test. It's the people who don't have symptoms. These are most of the people who get the virus, and especially younger people, children, and young adults who get the virus usually don't show symptoms. They are active carriers of the virus and will join families of 20 or 30 people. And guess what? You will spread it. Nobody wears masks. There is no social distancing. It's inside. This is exactly the environment that the virus seems to like.

Gabe Howard: I like what you said about the virus, don't care about government policies, the virus don't care about politics, the virus honestly doesn't care about those little arguments. But families are very interested in these things. And for the past few years, if I've survived the holidays, it's always okay for you to sit at the table and someone gives an unpopular opinion. Everyone is starting to argue, how do you deal with your own mental health? Now we did it. We're more dispersed, but families don't agree on whether or not to cancel plans. And the group that cancels the plans pro and the group that does not pro-cancel the plans get into a lot of disagreements. Do you have any mental health advice on how to deal with this family disagreement so everyone is safe?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: We all have to understand, look, families will not agree on everything. You can't agree on politics. You may not agree on this and that and the other and that's fine. These are adults who are adults. When it comes to family gatherings of this kind at this extraordinary time, this is a once in a lifetime event. I still don't think people have this on their minds enough to think that either it's not as bad as people say, or that it's just like the seasonal flu is a little bit worse or something ? No, this is a once in a century pandemic that is very contagious, far more contagious than I think we probably originally thought. If families disagree, that's perfectly fine. What must happen at this point is that if one family member disagrees with another family member, you will not convince anyone. Correct? You won't change people's minds. If people don't believe in science today or don't believe scientists, you are not going to have a discussion with them about where they will suddenly be, oh yeah. After you show me the scientific data, I fully understand your point. I mean that won't happen. So here is what you need to do. You must bow gracefully out of the family reunion this year.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: It's that simple. You have to say, look, I appreciate that you all get together. Me and my partner, we will thank you, but no thank you. We will accompany you on a Zoom call. Let's do a zoom call. We'll practically meet this year. It's a year. We ask people to be safe for Christmas and New Year celebrations. I know it sounds like you're taking my freedom away. Hey look, the virus doesn't care about your freedom. The virus will kill you whether you are freedom loving or believe that public health officials dedicate their careers and lives to losing your freedom. And when family members don't respect your decision. Well, that just says something about family, doesn't it? Family is like that sometimes. And there is not much you can do to change that human interaction on this one thing because it's a longstanding problem, a longstanding problem in this family.

Gabe Howard: It really sounds like you are saying that families disagree all the time and you can't be hit harder than anyone else political, religious, parental, financial, regardless of what your family is usually into Vacation fights. It's basically the same. It is a family disagreement that needs to be handled the same way.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Yes, that's exactly it.

Gabe Howard: We'll be back in a minute from this news.

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Gabe Howard: And we're back with Dr. John Grohol to discuss the impact of COVID on the holiday season. John, my family canceled Christmas and I don't see my family but almost once a year, usually around Christmas, and that was difficult for my family to handle because I was one of those families where half of us wanted to get together and half of us don't. What I said to my family was, look, what if we say we all get together, we all have Christmas, we all have a wonderful day and then someone gets COVID and gets very sick or Heaven forbids it, even dies. Is this the memory we want in 2020, is this the risk we want to take? Oddly enough, I wasn't worried about the person who got sick or died. I was worried about what would happen to our family, the survivors. How would the survivors take that? This would prolong that trauma forever. Is that a reasonable thing to worry about?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: It's a way of looking at the situation, and certainly a rational and logical way of looking at it and saying, hey, what about the worst case scenario? Because that's how we make many decisions in our life. We look at the risk ratio and say, is it really worth it to go skydiving with a 0.01% chance of parachuting failure or something? And some people look at that and say, no, it's okay, I'm more likely to get struck by lightning and they jump out of a plane and hope the parachute opens. So it's the same equation when it comes to this family reunion for this year. Do you really want this death or even the disease? Because COVID isn't just something that comes and then goes away after you've been treated. There is a significant minority of patients. I think about 20% of the patients who have the disease have to be hospitalized and then endure persistent symptoms for months after the disease goes away. So it's not necessarily just something that you get and get over.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: To introduce not only the possibility of death but also the possibility of a chronic health problem from COVID-19. When you've put all of this in a bundle and looked at you can say, wow, like I really didn't see it that way. And I really don't really want to be responsible for someone else's death or illness or any inconvenience just because I have to see them face to face versus a zoom chat. And that is the most important. We can still get together. We're just asking people to consider doing this virtually rather than in person this year as we're seeing amazing fall rates. It's just an upward number. That's incredible. It's a lot worse than spring. And some health experts warned people that winter was going to be difficult and that this could happen. And unfortunately we see that. I think it's in everyone's best interests to really think and say for that long, hey, do I want others to be aware of other health issues?

Gabe Howard: John, my family agree with you, I agree with you, and I think a lot of families agree. So let's talk about making lemonade from lemons. We have now decided that we will not get together. Now in this episode you hinted that you can get together through Zoom, but of course you can't exchange gifts through Zoom. Correct? technology

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Sure you can.

Gabe Howard: The technology just isn't there yet.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Sure you can. Of course you can. Why do you say you can't trade? You can send the gifts a week or two in advance. People have done this for years before where they live overseas or are in a situation where they cannot escape and physically cannot be there. So you just have to take into account. It takes a little thought and a little extra time and effort putting together a care package that basically consists of small gifts if you like, or stick to gift cards that you can even send virtually now.

Gabe Howard: You just send these things via email

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Yes,

Gabe Howard: That is an excellent point.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Look, it's not the same Christmas as it used to be. I understand, OK? This will not be a normal Christmas, even if you choose to meet. It's a weird Christmas. It's an odd holiday season. It's going to be a strange, sadly, long and difficult winter before the vaccine is widely used and people actually sign up for it. You look to daylight saving time before you get the numbers it takes to really fight the virus.

Gabe Howard: I really like what you said about it, that it won't be a typical Christmas, that it won't be a typical New Year, that it won't be a typical holiday, but it can still be a good one. And it reminds me of when my sister was in the military. Now she was in the military before zoom was a thing. But the reason I'm bringing this up is because we obviously wanted to see my sister over the holidays. We wanted to spend Christmas with her. We love them very much. And it was the planning that made it possible for us to celebrate an unforgettable Christmas. To send your things to Iraq, we literally had to send them two months in advance. So we planned Christmas in October and November to make sure it got to her and then she would get it. And then she didn't have a guaranteed time to call. There were time differences and she was obviously busy being a soldier. So we would all have to sit on the phone from noon to eight o'clock because that was her window. And actually this window was like 8 p.m. It was a very difficult window but we did it and my sister did the exact same thing with Iraq, where she sent us her presents. She actually sent them through Amazon. So she was a lot smarter than us. But with all of this planning we all sat around a speakerphone and opened all of the presents we got for my sister and my sister for all of us together. And now, all these years later, because of that effort, because of this planning, and because we understand that this is the situation, we have many memories of it. And of course my sister says things, when I was in the military we didn't have video conferencing. It is a happy memory now. If people get on board early and realize that, you think it will improve the outcome of their vacation this year, Dr. John?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Yes, absolutely, and it is important to have these conversations in advance, like now, to talk about Christmas and decide as soon as possible what you are going to do as a whole extended family. And if some people are uncomfortable not attending a face-to-face meeting, as we recommend, they don't, get those gifts in the mail asap, or just think about other ways to send a card or receive a gift Card in or something like that might be enough this year. This is also a very unusual time. It's a unique situation. Just have to go with the flow, roll with it because it's not something you probably need to worry about in 2021 when we finally get the virus under control when all vaccines hit the streets. Think of it as an unusual situation and try to be a bit more flexible than you normally could be. I understand that families can get caught in these rigid patterns and never want to change traditions. And they think the traditions are so important. And look, they are up to a point, but traditions shouldn't go beyond common sense. And that is exactly why we ask people to get a little more involved when they see such a surge in cases where you have to use your common sense and say inside, no social distancing, no masks. The virus likes that. We probably shouldn't.

Gabe Howard: Dr. John, as always, thank you for being here. Do you have any last words for our audience before we get out of here?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Yeah, look, it's Christmas time, I understand, you can still enjoy the season, you can still walk down the street, you can still do some virtual shopping, if not in person, because they may have to close the stores again or so on. It's a difficult time and we're all going through this. The coronavirus is the enemy and we are all set up against the fight against this enemy and we must be united in this fight. We can't make people say, oh, I don't think a coronavirus is not an enemy. It's not that bad a virus. No, it's a nasty virus. It kills people. It kills a thousand Americans a day. It will be above the quarter of a million mark when we record this. We have to take it seriously. And you do this by making those little personal sacrifices for a year and taking personal responsibility for the decisions and behaviors that you are involved in because you have the ability to do so. We all have the ability to help each and every one of us fight this enemy, fight the coronavirus and the spread of the coronavirus. And if we agree on this, we will eventually be successful. But if we ignore the science and good scientific advice, we will only be contributing to more Americans dying, more of your neighbors to get sick, and in that case, possibly some of your family members to get the virus. And that's something I don't think either of us wants. We don't want to see a loved one in intensive care on a ventilator. That would really be the worst way to end 2020 if that happens. I just want to ask our listeners to keep these things in mind when making their plans for this year.

Gabe Howard: And when they are letting their plans work with loved ones to create the second best memories they can, I am not an optimistic person. But I have to tell you that some of my best memories were when things didn't go as planned and we all got together as a family and got it working anyway. I really believe this is an opportunity that all of America has, really the whole world. But all of America now has an opportunity to make this a truly unique and memorable yet happy holiday season.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Absolutely absolutely. I can't emphasize what you said just enough and we will all have these memories of the 2020 pandemic. We will all remember what we did and how we did it. And there will be stories that we not only tell our children and our children, but also tell their children that they have been passed down through generations and how you have dealt with them, how you made it, how you made it through the other side alive and keeping your family safe. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday. I hope everyone stays safe and still finds a way to enjoy the vacation.

Gabe Howard: John, I absolutely wish you that too.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D .: Many thanks.

Gabe Howard: We wish all of our listeners a Merry Christmas. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of Insanity is an assholewhich is available on Amazon.com. Or you can buy it for me directly. I'll sign it and throw in Psych Central Podcast Swag. Just go to gabehoward.com. It's a great Christmas present. Wherever you download his podcast, please subscribe. Please also rate and rate. Use your words and tell others why they should join in too. And remember, you can give free, convenient, affordable and private advice online for a week anytime, anywhere BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We meet next week.

Announcer: You heard the Psych Central podcast. Do you want your audience to be amazed at your next event? Show a gig and LIVE RECORDING of the Psych Central Podcast right from your stage! For more information or to book an event, please send us an email at show@psychcentral.com. For previous episodes see PsychCentral.com/Show or on your favorite podcast player. Psych Central is the oldest and largest independent mental health website on the internet, operated by mental health professionals. Psych Central is led by Dr. John Grohol oversees and provides trusted resources and tests to answer your questions about mental health, personality, psychotherapy, and more. Please visit us today at PsychCentral.com. To learn more about our host, Gabe Howard, please visit his website at gabehoward.com. Thank you for listening and please share with your friends, family and followers.

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